People of color are mainly missing out on budding cannabis opportunities and wealth now that legalization has spread across the country–and minority entrepreneurs are pushing for changes.
Around 80% of cannabis business founders and owners identify as White, as reported by a 2017 survey by Marijuana Business Daily. However, since recreational marijuana became legal in some states and medically accessible in over 30 states, people of color historically are disadvantaged by the nation’s stringent cannabis laws.
“I was the only Black woman for a long time in a lot of rooms–sometimes, still am,” Iyana Edouard, a cannabis marketing specialist and content creator in California, said in a phone interview with MJBizDaily.
Edouard ran a small business that sold hemp skin care products and smoking accessories called Kush & Cute for five years until she paused the project back in May. When the young entrepreneur launched her business, it was the first of its kind owned by a black woman.
However, as the industry gained traction, a serge of regulations and corporate competition made it “a lot harder for the small people to stay in the game,” Edouard said.
Minorities, as well as women, might find the marijuana faction of today welcoming in more diversity, Edouard said; however, “it is easier for White, wealthy women to get in the space because they have the resources.”
Since cannabis is federally illegal, tax breaks and bank loans aren’t an option for people of color lacking hefty financial support.
At the same time, companies with angel investors and wealthy venture capitalists build their marijuana empires with no issue.
While many Black celebrities, including rappers like Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg, have successfully gotten into the industry, they are outliers in a majority White sector. Jay-Z’s organization, The Parent Company, invested in a Los Angeles dispensary designed by and for women of color.
A meager 5.7% of these entrepreneurs are Hispanic or Latino, and 4.3% are Black. 25-year-old entrepreneur C.J. Wallace started Think BIG; a Black-owned company focused on marijuana legalization and other social justice problems.
It once sold limited-edition marijuana products in 2019. Being the son of late rap legend Biggie Smalls, his family legacy gives him a different platform. Although, financing his business through investors and other sources is still tricky.
“It hasn’t gone as well as people would think,” Wallace said, noting that he has seen improvements for his business over the last year. Federal legalization could solve a lot of the problems minorities face by lifting heavy financial restrictions.
However, despite Democratic backing, federal legalization is still a longshot from fruition under the Biden administration. Advocates for equity advances are pushing for more minor victories through political vessels, such as a House-passed bill (H.R. 1996) introduced by Representative Ed Perlmutter that would offer protections to financial institutions that choose to serve marijuana companies.
Edouard said the cannabis industry “really is about money and power.”
“It’s unfortunate, but I’m hoping it’s going to change,” Edouard said.
While it’s deplorable that people of color have to go through such hardship to get into the marijuana industry. However, it is heartwarming to see entrepreneurs and advocates of color vying for equity and equality within the industry.