The Push for Equity in the Cannabis Industry
July 3, 2018

The Push for Equity in the Cannabis Industry

by NCIA Editorial Staff

It’s no secret that the cannabis industry still has much work to do in terms of building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce. But what barriers stand in the way, and how can we overcome them?

According to the ACLU, cannabis use is roughly equal among African-Americans and whites, yet African-Americans are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for possession of the substance. Higher arrest and incarceration rates for these communities are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use, but rather of law enforcement’s disparate focus on urban areas, lower income communities, and communities of color.

People of color are unequivocally and disproportionately affected by the prohibition of cannabis — so, what happens when a state decides to end prohibition?

Many states that have chosen to tax and regulate cannabis have included provisions in those laws that prohibit individuals with any prior convictions from working in a licensed cannabis company. Not only that, according to the Minority Cannabis Business Association, “heavy regulation, the high cost of entry, and information gaps hinder minorities from entering the industry as owners, employees, and patients & consumers”.

Not all states have taken that route, however. Massachusetts state law requires the Cannabis Control Commission to promote full participation in the industry by people disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement. The goals of Massachusetts’ social equity program include reducing barriers to entry to the adult-use cannabis industry and providing technical services and mentoring to individuals facing barriers.

Action is also being taken at the local level. In January, the District Attorney’s office in San Francisco announced that they would be retroactively applying Proposition 64, which legalized the possession and recreational use of cannabis for adults ages 21 years or older, to misdemeanor and felony convictions dating back to 1975.

The important message of social equity, diversity, and inclusion in the cannabis industry has also reached the halls of Congress. A year ago, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced S. 1689: The Marijuana Justice Act, which was the first piece of federal legislation to ever order federal courts to expunge cannabis convictions and actually punish states that have racially disproportionate arrest rates or disproportionate incarceration rates for marijuana offenses.

Just last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, which creates a dedicated funding stream for women and minority-owned cannabis businesses that will be funded by revenue generated by the industry and directly linked to the industry’s growth. Not only that, the bill provides $100 million in grant funding to encourage state and local governments to develop, enhance or expand expungement or sealing programs for individuals convicted of marijuana possession.

In addition to these pieces of legislation, there have also been resolutions filed that address these disparities. In June, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced the Realizing Equitable & Sustainable Participation in Emerging Cannabis Trades (RESPECT) Resolution, which encourages equity in the cannabis industry. The resolution urges state and local leaders to implement a series of practices when granting licenses for legal cannabis businesses to improve access for communities of color to the nascent industry, such as minimal application and license fees, no caps on the number of licenses, increased local control of the licensing process, and removing broad felony and cannabis convictions as automatic disqualifiers for participation. NCIA was proud to endorse this resolution and looks forward to advocating for its passage.

There’s still an incredibly long way to go before we have a cannabis industry that’s as diverse and rich as the cannabis community as a whole. Here at NCIA, we know the task of representing the legal and legitimate cannabis industry is more than just advocating for the biggest or richest companies — we’re also here to advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in this industry that we are all building together.


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