In the Unites States, cannabis drug laws have disproportionately affected Black and brown people, while newly-legal marijuana endeavors are predominantly owned by people who are white and male. This fall’s ballot wins for cannabis legalization give states and private businesses the opportunity to ameliorate racial disparity in an industry where about 17% of executive positions are held by Black, Indigenous and people of color according to research by MJ Biz Daily.
States are implementing legal and financial changes. Some are expunging or sealing convictions for low level drug offenses. Last year, New York State cleared marijuana convictions for 160,000 people from their records. More than a dozen other states are taking similar actions. The Restoration of Rights Project provides a chart comparing all 50 states actions in expungement and clemency.
Some states are ensuring a portion of licenses or funds go to historically harmed groups. New Jersey lawmakers are considering allowing private equity firms to hold up to a 40% stake in up to 10 dispensary licenses owned by women, minorities and disabled veterans, helping those groups gain access to capital.
Curio Wellness, a Maryland-based medical cannabis company, announced it would invest with up to 50 women, minority and disabled veteran entrepreneurs to help them open and operate a Curio Wellness franchise by minimizing the cash those entrepreneurs need to come up with. While starting a cannabis dispensary can cost anywhere between $250,000 to $750,000 Curio aims to help entrepreneurs to open a shop by requiring just about 7% of the upfront capital needed to launch.
Al Harrington co-founder of Viola cannabis brand, the largest Black-owned multi-state operation in the country, expects legalization will engender “a positive fiscal impact within our economy by bringing more tax revenue across these new states.”
Expansion of cannabis laws helps disadvantaged groups in other ways as well he said, “By normalizing cannabis, we’re also able to make strides within Black and other minority communities that have been plagued by the war on drugs for decades.”
The progress needs to continue as the new markets are established Harrington added. “Social equity needs to continue to be a key factor in decision making as we look to rebuild our communities through education, expungement and employment opportunities.”
Cannabis legalization continues to gain acceptance. A new Gallup Poll showed support at 68% and recent ballot wins mean that three quarters of the adult US population will be living in states where they can legally purchase medical marijuana. One in three will live in a state where they can enjoy the substance recreationally. And with a new president-elect, “At the very least, we’ll see national decriminalization during Biden’s presidency,” predicted Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor John Fetterman in a tweet.