United We Stoned
Text Shay Digenan – Pistil + Stigma
It’s 2018, and the chances that you’ve come across a headline or had a conversation about the fact – and it is a fact – that people of color are arrested in cases involving marijuana far more often than white people are, well, high. In the first three months of 2018, 89% of the roughly 4,000 people who were arrested for marijuana possession in New York City were black or Latinx, even though it’s been shown that white people and people of color use marijuana at about the same rate. The problem isn’t just the NYPD: The areas with the biggest marijuana arrest rate discrepancies between white and black people in 2010 were Iowa, D.C., Minnesota, and Illinois.
As both medical and recreational markets continue to pop up across the country, regulators are faced with the task of making sure a historically unequal playing field based on arrest rates and lack of access to capital doesn’t produce legal marijuana markets that are exclusive to white ownership and participation, as consequence-free marijuana use has been for a long time.
As a result, many states have proactively developed regulations that make written plans to hire a diverse workforce mandatory for gaining a license to grow and sell marijuana. Several also have regulations in place that favor companies with members of underrepresented groups, like racial minorities, women, and veterans, in their leadership. Nevada wasn’t one of these states when it licensed medical dispensaries in 2014 and 2015, which later began selling pot for recreational use when Prop 2 took effect in 2017, though diversity became a component following legislative changes this year.
A handful of states have gone further in trying to even out the already-disparate marijuana markets. Massachusetts, where recreational marijuana use became legal in 2016, launched the first social equity program in any regulated marijuana market in the nation this year in response to 2017 research that showed just 4.3% of marijuana businesses in the nation were black-owned and 5.4% were Latinx-owned. The program includes different tracks for different types of participation (including one for people who have previously been incarcerated) and matches individuals to resources to help them be successful in the industry.
Steps have recently been taken in Maryland to try and increase the amount of racial diversity in its medical marijuana market, as well, including a grant program that may award a total of $225,000 to a maximum of five groups that demonstrate plans to promote diversity in the industry. Several cities in California, including San Francisco and Oakland, also have Cannabis Equity Programs.
It might seem natural to ask whether programs like these will continue to be necessary if recreational marijuana use continues to become legal in states across the country. A sobering answer can be found in a 2018 report published by the Drug Policy Alliance: In the two years following the legalization of recreational use in Colorado, marijuana arrest rates dropped 51% for white people, but only 33% for Latinx people and 25% for black people. It seems clear that this is one aspect of the market that will not self-correct, and efforts to resolve the glaring inequity is a worthwhile endeavor.
Pistil and Stigma Inc.
Reno, NV // Oakland, CA // San Diego, CA
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