In this week’s episode of Majority Minority, we examine the challenges and obstacles that people of color face breaking into the mostly-white legal marijuana industry.
Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use while eight states and the District have legalized pot for recreational use. But of the 3,200 to 3,600 marijuana dispensaries in the U.S. fewer than three dozen are African American-owned — about one percent.
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Lisa Scott, who operates an edible cannabis company in Washington, D.C., talks about how lack of access to financial capital and the disproportionately high conviction rate of minorities on low-level drug charges make it difficult for them to obtain licenses to operate legal medical marijuana dispensaries and other cannabis-related businesses.
On the same program, Florida State House Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith speaks about his effort to decriminalize marijuana in his state and ease the path for the cannabis industry in the Sunshine State.
“There needs to be at some point, I believe, reparations to the communities that have been unjustly prosecuted by federal and state and cannabis laws, and one of those ways is getting in the industry,” Smith said. “They can create diverse licensing boards to those who want to enter the cannabis industry, they can lower the application and start-up fees, they can not have some of these onerous requirements like the state of Florida has.”
Further legalization efforts could face strong pushback from Washington. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January rescinded former President Barack Obama’s memos that kept prosecutors from cracking down on the marijuana businesses in states where it’s legal.
However, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., where the legal pot industry is booming, said he received assurances from President Donald Trump last week that he supports the rights of states to decide how they approach marijuana.
Several lawmakers in both political parties have shifted their thinking on pot recently. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said he intends to introduce a bill to decriminalize marijuana.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, this week expedited a bill that would make it easier — and completely legal — for farmers to grow and market hemp products. Hemp is a non-intoxicating sister plant of marijuana
And former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, once a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization, tweeted last week that “my thinking on cannabis has evolved” after he joined the board of advisers of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis business.