420 Day is here, and the atmosphere all over America is a little cloudier than usual in celebration of the holiday.
While many puff, puff, and pass the bud, a dark cloud looms over this celebration of cannabis for some.
In 1996, medical marijuana was first legalized in the United States in the state of California. Since then, the cannabis industry has expanded into 27 more states and Washington, D.C., joining California in legalizing weed (to varying degrees).
According to Arcview Market Research, a company that specializes in cannabis industry research, the marijuana market is projected to pull in a staggering $21.8 billion in total annual sales by 2020. With so much cash rolling in, one group seems to be left out of the booming bud industry: African-Americans.
It’s essentially impossible to get an accurate count of how many weed dispensaries exist in the U.S. at any given time, with new shops, raids, and closures happening every day. But it’s safe to say there are thousands.
According to an investigative report by BuzzFeed's Amanda Chicago Lewis in March 2016, only 1 percent of U.S. marijuana dispensaries were owned by African-Americans. Panels and vendor booths at the many cannabis conferences, expos, and festivals that happen nationwide highlight just how imbalanced the industry is in terms of race.
There are more than 900 business licenses related to marijuana dispensaries in Colorado alone, according to the state government’s website, yet in 2016 only one African-American-owned dispensary was known to exist in the entire state. Why?
The Marijuana Arrest Research Project found that between 2001 and 2010, Colorado police made 108,000 arrests for marijuana possession. African-Americans were more than 10 percent of those arrests, but are less than 4 percent of Colorado’s residents. This means in a state where an African-American person is three times more likely to be arrested for pot, less than 1 percent of the now legal weed trade is owned by black people.
The application for obtaining a medical or recreational marijuana business license in Colorado states that applicants may not have any controlled substance felony convictions that have not been fully discharged in the 10 years immediately preceding the date of application.
Considering the history of disproportionate imprisonment of African-Americans for drug crimes, this put those black residents of Colorado once involved in the illegal weed trade that want to go legit at a large disadvantage from the moment the law was passed to make marijuana legal. Similar regulations exist in almost every state that allows the legal sale of marijuana.
There are many other factors that contribute to the disparity in the marijuana business. On average, African-Americans are less likely to be born into generational wealth often used to fund new businesses. In Arizona, the fee for an initial dispensary registration certificate alone is $5,000. This and operation costs make getting into the pot business an expensive endeavor.
Fear is also a factor, as many African-Americans remain traumatized by the “War on Drugs” waged by the U.S. government that many argue was created to specifically target minorities.
Of course there's also that question of whether President Donald Trump’s America will allow for the growing marijuana economy to continue to thrive.
The answer to that is unclear at best.
But, marijuana seems to be a resource that will be an important factor in pushing our country into the next century. Only time will tell if those significantly more likely to be arrested for cannabis will be able to make the transition from imprisonment to empowerment.