States take steps to entice minority marijuana entrepreneurs
Some states that have legalized marijuana are encouraging minorities to enter the growing cannabis industry after years of drug enforcement that had a disproportionate effect on black and Hispanic communities. A look at some of the efforts nationwide:
Recreational pot was legalized in Washington in 2012. The state has nearly 500 licensed retail stores.
Nearly 3 percent of retail license holders are African-American in a state where black people are 3.5 percent of the population . In 2015, African-Americans made up 11 percent of marijuana arrests.
Brian Smith, spokesman for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, said the board is interested in diversifying licensees and may use targeted outreach to ethnic communities if they decide to license more people in the future.
California voters legalized recreational marijuana in November. The first retail sales are expected in January.
Oakland officials approved a program that initially sets aside half of the city’s marijuana licenses for low-income residents who have been convicted of a cannabis crime or who live in a specified neighborhood where drug enforcement has been intense. Advocates are urging similar programs statewide, including in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
African-Americans made up 5.6 percent of the state but 16 percent of marijuana arrests in 2015, according to an AP analysis of statistics collected by the FBI.
The first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use does not track industry demographics. A spokesman for the Denver department that oversees marijuana policy, Daniel Rowland, said individual businesses have programs to employ minorities, but nothing is mandated by the city.
A report by the Colorado Public Safety Department found that arrest rates for African-American and Latino juveniles increased after legalization, while the rate for white juveniles went down.
African-Americans made up nearly 4 percent of the Colorado population in 2015 and 11 percent of arrests.
Florida lawmakers passed a bill last year to address issues that arose with the state’s 2014 medical marijuana law, including provisions to favor black farmers.
The provisions ensure that once the state’s medical marijuana patient registry reaches 250,000, three additional cultivation licenses will be made available, with one of them designated for a member of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association.
Black farmers in Florida were among thousands across the country who sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture for racial discrimination, saying they had been unfairly denied government loans and subsidies in the 1980s and 1990s. The case ended with an historic settlement in 1999.
The state’s rollout of medical marijuana has been marred by lawsuits filed by groups that were not among the 15 chosen by the state for cultivation licenses. None of the 15 was minority-owned, despite language in the law that requires regulators to seek “racial, ethnic and geographical diversity” in the awarding of licenses.
The General Assembly ended its legislative session last month without acting on a bill designed to create diversity by allowing up to seven more licenses to grow marijuana, with two going to companies that are suing the state and five others for minority-owned companies after a disparity study is conducted. The Legislature’s Black Caucus has called for a special session to consider the bill.
Minority groups comprise about 48 percent of Maryland’s population, including nearly 30 percent African-American. Blacks made up roughly 57 percent of cannabis arrests in 2015.
The 2016 ballot question that legalized recreational marijuana included language to encourage participation in the cannabis industry by people who were “disproportionately harmed” by enforcement of marijuana laws in the past. The law does not exclude people with past marijuana convictions from applying for a retail license or working in a cannabis business.
Boston City Council member Ayanna Pressley has drafted proposed legislation that would direct 20 percent of unexpended revenue from state and local marijuana taxes toward programs to assure racial equity, including efforts to reduce financial barriers to ownership of businesses.
In 2015, African-Americans made up nearly 7 percent of the state’s population but 34 percent of cannabis arrests.
The state’s 2016 medical marijuana law included some licenses set aside for minority businesses, but it’s questionable whether that provision would stand in court.
The benchmarks require at least 15 percent of Ohio’s marijuana-related licenses to go to the businesses of one of four economically disadvantaged minority groups — blacks, Hispanics, Asians or Native Americans — so long as an adequate number apply.
Legal experts have questioned whether the racial-preference provision would stand up in court, though no legal challenge has been filed to date.
African-Americans made up 12 percent of the state’s population in 2015, but 35 percent of arrests.
Lawmakers passed a medical marijuana law in 2016, and subsequent regulations written by the Pennsylvania Department of Health included policies to ensure that medical cannabis organizations “foster participation of diverse groups in all aspects of their operations.”
Specifically, the rules require that applicants for cultivation and dispensing permits include in their initial applications a diversity plan that spells out how they will achieve racial equity through ownership, employment and contracting.
The agency is also required to make special efforts to help minorities learn how to apply for cultivation and dispensing permits. At least four predominantly minority groups have applied for medical marijuana permits, according to Philadelphia City Councilman Derek Green.
African-Americans were nearly 11 percent of the state in 2015 and made up 35 percent of arrests.
The state in April became the 29th in the U.S. to approve of marijuana use for certain medical conditions. The new law includes a provision requiring state regulators to seek ways of encouraging minority-owned businesses to apply for growing licenses.
African Americans were nearly 4 percent of the state in 2015 and made up 19 percent of arrests.