It’s 2015, and we as a country are making great steps towards being a progressive society. Gay marriage and minority rights are gaining favor, we are taking steps to explore space and advance medicine to extend lifespans, and we are legalizing marijuana, finally repealing the tired old laws that treat cannabis as though it is a deadly drug rather than a natural plant. But sadly, things aren’t all positive. The news is still dominated by stories of racial crime and hate, and this sadly extends to the cannabis industry. That’s right; most people getting involved with legal weed are white, and minority groups are still largely shying away from the world of kosher pot.
What is worse, while very few minorities work in the industry, even less hold serious positions of power or have started their own legal weed businesses. Lakisha Jenkins , who was interviewed by Marijuana Business Daily about her position as owner of Kiona’s Farm’acy, which is a dispensary as California, as well as her her tenure as president of the California Cannabis Industry Association and the National Cannabis Industry Association, shared her position on the issue.
“I feel like I’m representing the entire black community,” she stated in regards to what it is like showing up at conferences and other cannabis-related events.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why this is, unfortunately. Minorities have notoriously been targeted by law enforcement as the perpetrators of most drug-related crimes, and they’ve been profiled to the moon and back as far as the groups most likely to be carrying drugs. According to the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, blacks and Latinos in the three largest cities of the U.S. are seven times more likely to be arrested for marijuana infractions, even though whites have a higher rate of consumption, and nationally, blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana. Furthermore, Latinos make up the largest group of convicted drug offenders in the country. So why would these people willingly go into an industry that is such a legal grey area, and invites persecution?
This is grimly ironic, because one of the claims of the legal industry has always been that we are working towards getting rid of racial profiling by making cannabis legal. This is one less thing for people of color to be profiled for, the logic goes, meaning fewer arrests and instances of wrongful profiling for minorities. But it looks like many minority individuals are scared to give the legal industry a try, and therefore are missing out on reaping all the profits.
“We’re on the ground floor where a brand new industry is emerging, a lucrative one, and (minorities) would otherwise be involved if not for that fear of persecution,” Jenkins added in the interview. “Whether we like or not, some socio-economic advantages aren’t always available to black Americans.”
Mona Lynch, who teaches criminology, law and society at the University of California at Irvine shared with Marijuana Business Daily that even minorities who have never had a brush with the law are still probably wary of the industry. They likely have a family member or friend who has had a negative experience with prohibition, and as such, want to stay as far away from the whole thing as possible, legal or not.
“The federal government still has the power to prosecute, and I can see that having a chilling effect on minorities getting into the industry because a shockingly disproportionate number get dragged into federal court on drug charges, and that’s where heavy sentences come from,” Lynch stated in the interview. “They can get you on conspiracy, and that means you can get decades for what looks like a minor issue.”
So what can we do to combat this issue? It’s not an easy question, and this is certainly not something that will happen overnight. However, as the industry makes more strides and gains legitimacy, this will inevitably lead many more interested but skeptical people on board as legal and respected members of cannabis society. And the existence of services like Marijuana Health Tips and Marijuana Stock Report via Weed Depot, which show cannabis as a viable medicine and commodity, as well as Leafly and other directories that help people feel less like criminals about marijuana, will surely help. Going forward, let us be conscientious about this disparity and try and move things in the right direction.