Thanks to the de-regulation of marijuana for medical and recreational use, the cannabis business is exploding, with sales estimated to reach $7 billion this year. It’s projected that the cannabis industry will top $35 billion annually by 2020.
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Cannapreneur Bonita “Bo” Money, founder of Women Abuv Ground, said that African Americans and Latinos are poised to miss the “green rush” for several reasons – that is, the lack of information about the legal use of medical marijuana; the cultural stigma associated with marijuana; the expensive start-up and application fees; and most importantly, the racial discrimination tied to drugs.
“African American and Latino communities have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, leading to mass incarceration,” Money explained. Because of criminal records, a large percentage of minorities are unable to participate in the business of cannabis due to state laws governing the industry.
“When you look at who owns dispensaries, if you look at who owns cultivation centers, who wins licenses and things of that nature, it’s an industry that is dominated by white men,” said Corey Barnette, owner of District Growers cultivation center and Metropolitan Wellness dispensary in Washington, D.C.
“We can only achieve diversity in the medical cannabis market if it’s open to new cannabis businesses and entrepreneurs. That means we have to advocate for laws and policies that don’t play favorites,” added Ariel Clark, founder of Clark Neubert, LLC and chair of the Los Angeles Cannabis Task Force. “Without laws that support an open market, new businesses won’t be able to operate. The time for communities to educate themselves and organize is now.”
This call for action is timely, as attitudes are shifting favorably for the industry. “The more we can shed the cannabis stigma, the quicker qualified resources will become available to industry entrepreneurs,” remarked Carolyn Gerin, head of business development for cannabis industry PR and thought leadership firm, Precise Cannabis.
Clearly, engaging minorities in the opportunities of the new cannabis industry can only begin with true awareness. As cannabis activist Montel Williams observed in his standing-only keynote address, “I look around and am happy to see the gender diversity in this room, but am unhappy about the level of racial diversity.”
Addressing it in an open forum like these experts have is an essential first step.
Main image:Marc Piscotty / for NBC News