On January 1, California's new laws legalizing recreational marijuana sales and possession of up to an ounce of pot went into effect. But Proposition 64 – the new rules approved by voters in November 2016 – is about much more than just pot-based fun for adults over the age of 21. More importantly, individuals convicted of most marijuana-based offenses before the new decriminalizing laws were enacted can appeal to have their criminal records expunged or reduced.
That's good news for California's black residents, who were the overwhelming targets of the state's War on Drugs. According to a 2015 study commissioned by the city of Oakland, African Americans accounted for 77% of cannabis arrests while making up just 30% of the population – white people came it at 4% of arrests at 31% of the population. Such disproportionate incarceration can further hinder an aspiring black entrepreneur from finding jobs and getting financial assistance, which may be a partial explanation of why just 1% of dispensaries in the United States are black-owned.
It's not just unfair that black people are shut out of the legal weed boom, it's white supremacy in action. And so, the ideal of black-owned marijuana businesses and organizations and the wealth they could bring has a symbolic color of justice surrounding it. Consumers on the west coast can help bring about the change by supporting dispensaries and innovation hubs like the ones below.
A non-profit delivery service founded by Oakland resident Andrea Unsworth. In an interview with Dope Magazine, she passionately advocated for the moral necessity of expanding the workforce with those who know pot best: former inmates. "I want people who are felons working for me," she said. "Funds specifically need to be appropriated to helping folks who have been convicted, not just for reparations, but to help them write a business plan."
Amber Senter, former COO of Magnolia Wellness, is a veteran of cannabis culture and advocacy – she was introduced to marijuana's medicinal effects at 18 (she would be diagnosed with lupus at 33) and began teaching herself how to grow in 2007. Leisure Life produces lovely cheddar and caramel popcorn you'll want to eat by the fistful, but Senter's company recommends just "3-5 kernels" to start. Have some regular treats on standby.
In May 2016, Sue Taylor was unanimously selected by Berkley city council to recieve a permit to open a dispensary, making the former Catholic school principal and grandmother the first black dispensary owner in the Bay Area city. Once a pot skeptic, she hopes to bring pot's healing properties to other seniors, pot's fastest growing demographic. "I want to bring awareness that there are alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs, and to empower people, whatever their age, so they can experience a meaningful, high quality of life," Taylor told Jezebel.
StashTwist's Andrea Unsworth and Amber Senter of Magnolia Wellness are also cofounders of the collective Supernova Women, alongside attorney Tsion "Sunshine" Lencho, and Nina Parks of Mirage Medicinal cooperative and delivery. The seminars and safe space offered by Supernova are fertile ground to help diversify California's weed boom, and shed light on obstacles marginalized entrepreneurs can face. These issues can range from the unremarkable — white people who don't want to talk about privilege — to ones specific to the weed industry. "This whole thing of starting on a level playing field is ridiculous," Unsworth told NPR. "[Nearly] 80 percent of the lock-ups are people of color. You're locking up all of these people who are trying to be entrepreneurs, but now that it's legal, you're allowed to say, Oh, you can come into our industry, but you can't have a criminal record. You can have a million dollars, but it can't be from cannabis, it has to be from your 401(k), or investments, or from your daddy. I mean, who are these people? These are not people of color."
Lanese Martin, Biseat Horning and Ebele Ifedigbo (a Yale MBA) started The Hood Incubator in 2017 with the goal of bringing black people in Oakland and across the country into the marijuana industry. To this end, the group delivers "community organizing, policy advocacy, and economic development" to help underserved communities profit from legal weed. It's not just black-owned storefronts they're after, but black leaders at the highest levels. “We envision a model where a pool of minorities can fund growers; manufacturers—whether it’s tinctures, oils or edibles; suppliers; and dispensaries,” Juell Stewart, the Incubator's director of communications, told The Root. “We want to see a day when we have a group of people who invest in the entire cannabis industry.”