By David Ross
When I originally set out to write a piece about the barriers to people of color in the cannabis industry, with the focus being on African Americans, I wanted to take a different approach and highlight some of those who are making advancements in the space. Then, I’d sprinkle in some information about their hurdles. It’s an approach of building things in an argument only to come through at the end and be like, here’s how shit really looks. But while conducting research, I realized the issue is far worse than I could’ve imagined. I’m reading about struggles by black entrepreneurs or those previously impacted by marijuana arrests and am rarely reading about stories of triumph.
The truth is that “social equity fund” is excellent to speak about behind a podium among liberal advocates (and a few conservatives) but what that actually looks like is a bit more murky. I’m starting to feel a bit bamboozled myself because I feel many politicians knew that any social equity fund, whether by state or federally, would be damn hard to institute. But the language sounds good. So let’s get these votes!
I check cannabis news on a regular basis these days, each morning in fact. I like to learn about what’s going on politically, trends in the marketplace and cannabis entrepreneurs to look out for. I will stumble across articles about White women in the cannabis industry, whether it be a family of women running a hemp farm to a team of women running cannabis retail, but the one thing that is largely absent is anything about black cannabis entrepreneurs. Except hurdles and complaints.
The only redeeming story I can find out on the interwebs is about Pure Oasis, a Black-owned cannabis dispensary in Boston. It’s the first Black-owned cannabis retailer in Massachusetts and it’s also the first actual dispensary within Boston city limits. This roll-out was part of Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission’s equity program.
Los Angeles had big dreams like this as well. “We don’t have one successful social equity [licensing] program yet,” said Bonita Money in a piece written by Sophie Linton for Stateline (which is independent journalism funded entirely by The Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit organization) called “Black-Owned Pot Businesses Remain Despite Diversity Efforts.” Money is the founder and executive director of the National Diversity & Inclusion Cannabis Alliance, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit. Their role is advising and advocating on behalf of social equity entrepreneurs.
What repeated articles suggest is that while there has been lots of this language baked into podium speeches and press gatherings, the roll-outs have been sloppy. They’ve been replete with “delays, lawsuits, computer glitches and corruption allegations,” writes Linton. Corruption allegations being those posing as social equity applicants or larger firms financing applicants who meet this criteria. There are several large groups trying to buddy up to people of color as a gravy train to gold, viewing it as a sneaky and tangible way to get a dispensary off of the ground and running. Not to mention, there’s still the opposition to any of this. Even with the catastrophic ways Blacks have been negatively impacted by marijuana arrests, or drug arrests in general, many groups hate Blacks so much to give a shit. Of course, they see it differently. Note: It’s possible to hate someone without knowing it. This happens between loved ones all of the time. Still though, it’s pretty depressing. And eye opening. The blood is in the water here: the impact is out in the open. Prisons have been filled, families torn apart, etc. And for there to be any resistance at all, it is painful to see. In the state of Virginia, with its newly elected Governor Youngkin who was skeptical from jump, introduced Bill 107 in the Senate which “ reallocates revenues from the state marijuana tax so that the 30 percent currently allocated to the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund would be reallocated to the general fund.” The Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund was passed in legalization legislation under previous Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Delegate Michael Werbert staunchly opposes such language as do many of his colleagues. This law “gives people with previous marijuana crimes convictions and others special consideration for marijuana licenses,” writes Caroline Vakil in her piece ,Virginia GOP seek to amend state’s marijuana law in The Hill. Delegate Werber recently stated such individuals should have a “seat at the table,” but shouldn’t receive preferential treatment.
My position here is don’t waste our (as in Blacks) time with all of the back and forth meaningless dialogue. Just tell me straight up that you don’t like me.