Cannabis is practically legal throughout California, but while White entrepreneurs seemed to be cleaning up in the business, Black people who want to get into the “green” industry run into barriers.
This has been observed by Javier Hasse, a journalist who has written about this issue in a Dope Magazine article titled, “Why Are Black People Excluded From the Legal Cannabis Industry? And What Can We Do About It?” According to Hasse, African Americans currently make up only 4 percent of the cannabis business owners and only 1 percent of dispensary owners.
“While Black people (and arguably Latinas) paid the highest price of cannabis’ illegality, they also got the short end of the stick when weed was made legal,” wrote Hasse, who also authored “Start Your Own Cannabis Business.”
Part of the problem is the gray legal area around cannabis. While it’s still considered a controlled substance by the federal government, laws differ from state to state and in different municipalities. (Cannabis is currently legal in 33 states.)
Hasse added that if you have a felony, you’re also restricted from working in certain areas of the industry, especially if it involves touching a plant. However, people with felonies can still work in other areas such as transportation or security.
Some states are taking a more proactive stance towards working with people who were affected by the War on Drugs and therefore face legal barriers to working in the industry.
Some states and cities, such as Oakland, offer expungement programs, that clear people’s records and allow them to work.
Hasse also said some states offer “social equity programs,” for people with records for drug crimes, that help get them a start in the industry. These programs are designed as a form of “payback” for the War on Drugs.
The War on Drugs sent many young Black men to jail and ruined their future employment chances. However, many critics have said police cracked down on Black men while ignoring other cannabis users. According to the ACLU, Black men are still four times more likely to go to jail for drug crimes even though, Black and White people use cannabis at the same rate. In 1994, John Ehrlichman, a former Nixon aide, told Harper’s Magazine, the government created the War on Drugs as an excuse to incarcerate Black men and remove them from the voting pool.
Hasse said Black cannabis investors also face another problem — financing.
“One of the biggest problems is funding,” he said. “Historically, funding favors White males.”
However, this is a problem many other aspiring cannabis business owners face. Most cannabis industry entrepreneurs can’t get bank loans to fund their operations.
According to Hasse, many cannabis industry entrepreneurs rely on personal savings or “angel” investments from friends and family.
Another sources of funding is cannabis industries in Canada. Additionally, some cannabis industry entrepreneurs are willing to fund other cannabis startups in exchange for a percentage of the profits. And there are even cannabis industry incubators that help people get started.
However, Hasse says you can only find this kind of information from networking with other cannabis industry people at conferences. Like in other industries, a lot of success comes down to who you know.
Hasse advises Black entrepreneurs to “network the hell out of it.”
“There are a lot of people who will teach you how to grow a business,” he said.
He also advises people interested in the cannabis industry to get in on the ground floor, learn the business and work their way up. He added that having a criminal record isn’t a problem.
“This is an industry that is very understanding of the complexities of the laws,” he said.