Inequality in the cannabis industry exists, and some companies have tried to address this by pushing for social equity.
Currently, representation in the cannabis industry is extremely uneven. A survey found that American cannabis companies were disproportionality White. According to the survey, about 87% of company owners are White, and other minority groups each made up less than 5%.
This inequality reflects years of disproportionate treatment prior to cannabis’ mass legalization. Back in the 70s, Richard Nixon started the United States’ “war on drugs,” a long-term plan that criminalized marijuana possession. The campaign had an especially profound effect on racial minorities. Law enforcement targeted both African- and Latin-Americans in their crackdown on marijuana, leading to arrests and an inflated prison system.
Canada was not much different in its approach. Before the country legalized marijuana in 2018, criminal laws around cannabis affected Black and Indigenous communities more than other groups. For example, studies found that someone of Indigenous descent faced arrest chances nine times higher than that of White Canadians for possessing marijuana.
Even after legalization in much of North America, the racial inequity caused by the war on drugs still persists. Criminal records remain a permanent mark on a person’s long-term economic outcomes, making it difficult for affected individuals to rehabilitate. Additionally, racial profiling has continued string. In the United States, African Americans are 3.6 more likely to face arrest for possession of marijuana compared to their White counterparts.
Given the long and fraught history of marginalized racial groups and their relationship with marijuana and law enforcement, it is rather precarious the legal cannabis market is predominantly White.
How the Indutstry has Pushed for Social Equity
The lack of equity in the cannabis industry has not gone unheard though. Many industry leaders have recognized this inequity and have worked towards providing racial minorities opportunities to start their own businesses. For example, the Hoban Law Group, a leading law firm for the cannabis industry, has provided and pushed for social equity programs. From employment opportunities to unconscious bias training, they have done whatever possible for greater minority representation.
But sometimes, industry efforts are simply not enough. Government support can bolster our collective efforts for racial equity. For example, Oakland implemented an Equity Permit Program back in 2017 following California’s decision to legalize weed. The program helped communities and individuals most affected by the war on drugs by giving them priority access to business permits.