By Ryan Velez
A Tech Insider article reports that while the legal marijuana industry is making big money nationwide, African-Americans aren’t getting a large share of this boom. 2015 marks the largest increase yet in sales for the legal pot market. Sales have increased 15% to $5.4 billion, higher than the e-cigarettes market and the Girl Scouts combined. With further trends towards legalization, the industry could possibly reach $21 billion and $44 billion by 2020.
One issue here, though, according to an investigative report by Amanda Chicago Lewis from Buzzfeed, is that African-Americans only own 1% of these marijuana dispensaries, shutting them out from the “green rush.” Lewis notes that while there aren’t any official statistics out regarding race and ownership of dispensaries, she interviewed over 150 people involved in the industry as a part of her report. She found that out of the 3,200 to 3,600 dispensaries in the U.S, black people owned fewer than three dozen of them.
This industry-wide issue extends beyond just ownership, but towards other aspects of the legalization movement as well. In her report, Lewis notes that industry-related events and press coverage often have very little representation from African-Americans.
With information pointing that marijuana usage is relatively uniform along all races, what is keeping black people out of this field? Ironically, the same possession charges that black people have been disproportionately arrested for throughout the “war on drugs” is now hurting their chances at taking part in the legal pot boom. Many dispensaries are looking for people who have experience growing and tending to marijuana, but don’t want people with prior convictions. This means that many African-Americans who are poised to stake their claim in this business are forced out. Some black store owners also reported discrimination from law enforcement—even for their legal businesses.
How can this be remedied? While there is no simple answer, organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance are looking to support black entrepreneurs and encourage newcomers in this space. In an article from The Grio, Drug Policy Alliance senior policy director Art Way wrote that “a good starting point would be staging a symposium on the opportunities the marijuana industry provides for African-Americans.”