Like democracy, marijuana legalization is an ongoing social experiment. And like empowering citizens with rights to assemble, vote, and try to self-govern, ending the practice of imprisoning people for buying, selling, and cultivating cannabis is policy rooted in social justice.
And like democracy, legalization is imperfect and undone—and requires consumers to make deliberate choices, like choosing to buy legal weed from Black and brown people. Whether by design or by neglect, this is difficult to do, which means the project is further away from realization.
This is an unfortunate development. It’s a wrong thing, and it also breaks the promise made to voters. Drug-policy reform—and, specifically, legalizing weed—is a critical tool for ending systemic racism.
But somehow, marijuana legalization has managed to perpetuate systemic racism—and, to at least some extent, the cannabis industry actually exacerbates white supremacy.
As journalist Amanda Chicago Lewis first reported, and as Marijuana Business Daily later confirmed, legal cannabis businesses are overwhelmingly white. There is no indication this has changed in any substantive way in the years since.
Though reformers like current California Gov. Gavin Newsom pitched legalization as a way to “right the wrongs of the drug war” and provide an economic boost for Black and brown communities wrecked by over-policing and incarceration, that simply has not happened. Most cannabis retail outlets and brands—particularly the large, well-capitalized, and publicly traded multi-state operators—remain white-owned.
This sucks! What to do? Do your utmost to buy legal cannabis from the Black and brown entrepreneurs who were supposed to benefit from legalization.
This takes a little bit of research and effort—but, as usual, people of color have already invested some of the necessary labor from which the rest of us can benefit.
Last week, Emerald Magazine published the above list of Black and brown-owned recreational cannabis dispensaries, brands, and manufacturers as well as some POC-owned CBD companies.
This list is a great place to start. But if you can’t find any of these brands near you, there are other methods available of using your dollars to complete legalization’s unfinished business.
Some jurisdictions extend specific opportunities to businesses run by people whom the drug war harmed most. If your state or city has a “social equity program”—and if you live in Illinois, Massachusetts, and certain cities in California, it does—you are supposed to have just buying options guaranteed. If your city or state does not have such a program, you should demand from lawmakers that they create one.
There’s also a national database of verified minority-owned cannabis businesses available. Created by Cannaclusive and ALMOSTCONSULTING, the InclusiveBase currently lists 482 businesses nationwide, in medical-only states like Oklahoma, relatively new recreational states like Michigan, as well as more established recreational states like California, Washington, and Oregon.
Brands and businesses listed include apparel companies and B2B firms providing ancillary services like accounting as well as flower-touching firms, rolling-paper companies, and consulting services. You can find a business that’s owned by women and Latinx, Asian, Indigenous and disabled people as well.
“Our list is the most accurate and comprehensive given the amount of actual Black ownership,” said Mary Pryor, one of the consultants behind Inclusivebase.
There are too many to list here, but there are listings in every state where cannabis exists. Encouraging, and evidence of a start.
It’s also evidence that it’s possible to purchase cannabis products that are produced entirely by Black-owned businesses—and proof that if a company in the cannabis space talks a big game about equity but fails to put the words into practice, there’s not much of an excuse. They could do something. And if they can do something, they can do more.