As cannabis enjoys long-awaited legalization in state after state, it’s hard to overlook the emergence of an industry wide pattern. I’ll give you a hint: it’s white. According the Marijuana Business Daily survey published in September 2017, 81 percent of cannabis business owners and founders are white. Black ownership makes up 4.3 percent of the industry. Upon immediate inspection, this sounds pretty disproportionate. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that white folks make up about 76.9 percent of the population while African Americans comprise 13.3 percent. So, yeah, if the cannabis industry were to reflect the actual population, the ownership of cannabis businesses should be about three times as brown as it is right now.
The Devastation of Black Communities
Here’s why this is an ironic and troubling disparity. The war on drugs has devastated—devastated—communities of color, especially Black ones.
In a Winter 2011 Cato publication, John McWhorter characterized the trauma the drug war has inflicted on Black communities as a vicious cycle in which black men are imprisoned for drug-related offenses, released without the tools to seek legal employment, tempted by the profitability of the black market, and thus ensnared once again into a life of crime and punishment.
No, the law doesn’t specifically say that Black folk are targets, but it doesn’t take much digging to uncover the intense racism and xenophobia on which prohibition stands. The data proves that racial bias is an undeniable facet of cannabis enforcement. According to a 2013 ACLU report, Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession even though cannabis use among whites and Blacks is roughly the same.
Here is the ensuing dilemma: there is a sea of Black people ostensibly experienced in weed entrepreneurship who, because of state regulations barring ex-cons with drug-related convictions from entering the legal industry, are shut out, once again, while the racially privileged are able to profit from the subculture cultivated by the very people anchored down by obsolete prison records. As Wanda James, CEO of Colorado-based dispensary
Simply Pure asked in an interview with the Root, “How obscene is it that an American in Mississippi will go to jail for standing on the corner and smoking a joint, and yet white boys here in Colorado are selling a billion dollars’ worth of weed and no one’s going to jail?” The following black-owned cannabis brands are challenging this cruel irony and both symbolically and politically making a way for marginalized communities to take back their power.
Panacea Valley Gardens
This family-owned cultivation facility was founded by Jesce Horton, a man personally affected by the war on drugs. His father was imprisoned for a cannabis-related crime when Horton was a child, and because of that, his parents were aggressively anti-weed. However, once they saw their son’s determination to start a cannabis business, they invested in his dream. Panacea Valley Gardens prides itself on its sustainable cultivation practices, excellent genetics, and highly skilled growers.
Hollingsworth Cannabis Company
A family of cannabis enthusiasts, the Hollingsworth clan took the plunge into cannabis cultivation, following the lead of Raft Hollingsworth, Jr., a retiree who decided retirement and his savings were exactly what he needed to launch his cannabis farm in Oregon. The Hollingsworth Cannabis Company (THC Co.) is operated by Raft, his children, and his sister. Their operation, sustained by the family’s tenacity, resilience, and optimism, flies in the face of the subversive stereotype attached to the world of cannabis.
Cannabis Global Initiative
This agency specializes in positioning entities within the cannabis industry for success, be it through policy change or branding. Cannabis Global Initiative’s (CGI) mission is “dedicated to the sustained growth and regulation of the cannabis industry by assisting “governments and businesses with regulatory framework, compliance, political guidance, media relations, branding, advertising, and marketing.” The president of CGI is Wanda James, the first black woman to own a dispensary in Colorado.
Minority Cannabis Business Association
In partnership with Marley Natural, Denver Relief Consulting, and MJ Freeway, the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) is a collective of business professionals united by their desire to increase the representation of marginalized and disempowered communities in the cannabis industry. MCBA was co-founded by Jesce Horton and Tiffany Bowden.
Founded in 2015, Supernova Women is devoted to the empowerment of women of color through “holistic education, advocacy training and skills acquisition.” The organization facilitates three programs, each designed to achieve its mission. The Shades of Green series discusses the critical need for people of color to be involved in the legislative process of cannabis legalization. The organization’s cannabis business workshops are free “boot camps” for novice and veteran cannabis entrepreneurs. Supernova Women also provides an ex-offender advocacy and education program during which participants can learn how to use the law to expunge their cannabis-related records and/or show proof of rehabilitation.
Mary and Main
At the beginning of 2018, 25-year old Hope Wiseman became the youngest black female owner of a cannabis dispensary when she opened Mary and Main. Wiseman left the conventional world of finance in Atlanta to launch Mary and Main, a medical cannabis dispensary located in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Mary and Main provides physician recommended patients with flower, tea, edibles, topicals, and tinctures. Along with her mother, Wiseman also co-founded Compassionate Herbal Alternative, a cultivation, processing, and dispensary center still in the process of obtaining licensure from Maryland.
The American Cannabinoid Clinics
When Dr. Janice Knox was exposed to the diversity of cannabis patients, the seriousness of the conditions ailing them, and the efficacy of cannabis in treating them, she realized she had been sorely mistaken about what she had always considered “a terrible drug.” She convinced her husband to visit a medical-card dispensing clinic, and his eyes were opened as well. Their daughters, Rachel and Jessica, knew that cannabis therapeutics was exactly how they wanted to use their medical degrees. The Knox family, known as the Canna MDs, operate the American Cannabinoid Clinics, medical clinics designed to “deliver patient-centered, integrative cannabinoid care to every patient looking for a personalized approach to addressing their health and healing.”