We like to think that the fledgling marijuana industry is a fertile ground for ambitious souls—whomever they may be—but according to a recent feature on NPR about racial inequities within the market, it’s the furthest from true. Selling weed while black, for instance—even legally—comes with its own set of challenges. So to carve their own place within the market, many people of color and other minorities are breaking into the industry by founding their own businesses and organizations, rather than relying on the (mostly white) spaces that already exist.
Race, Privilege and Visibility in the Cannabis Industry
In a recent interview with NPR, Amber Senter, a cannabis manufacturer and co-founder of the educational organization Supernova Women, explained how elucidating inequalities for those selling weed while black (or doing anything within the industry while being a minority) is the first step to overcoming industry impediments.
As Senter pointed out, being not only a person of color but a woman of color creates its own unique barriers, obviating the same type of access to success within the industry that, say, a white cisgender man would take for granted.
“I mean, not only am I black, but I’m also a woman,” Senter told NPR, “[There are] two levels of barriers there. Convincing someone to give you $250,000 so you can start a business, that’s challenging in itself. Even with all the experience that might be bringing to the table, you’re still going to get doubted.”
“We deal with the same barriers that would exist in any industry, and then it’s compounded because we’re talking about a federally illegal substance,” Senter added.
The answer is as simple as it is ugly: The gatekeepers of the industry tend to be white cisgender men.
As Senter noted, even when people of color are able to break into the green rush market, a glass ceiling is still in place. If employed at all, people of color tend to be either budtenders or security personnel—and, in turn, very rarely in positions of power. While POC investors exist, they’re few and far between. In the end, this limits the diversification of the upper echelons of the cannabis industry.
The obvious antidote to Senter, then, was to bypass gatekeepers entirely.
She, along with partners Andrea Unsworth, Nina Parks and Tsion “Sunshine” Lencho, co-founded Supernova Women, an organization which provides educational seminars and lectures for would-be cannabis entrepreneurs who face similar challenges.
“Supernovas are a quiet force in the universe,” Senter said, explaining the meaning behind the organization’s name. “Things gravitate towards supernovas, and we saw all of us coming together as just being this huge force that could not be ignored. Because the issues that we were facing could not be ignored.”
Racial Profiling in the Age of the Green Rush
In the NPR interview, Unsworth also pointed out that the idea of a “level playing field”—i.e., viewing the burgeoning marijuana industry as an equal-opportunity market for both white and POC entrepreneurs—is an entirely ridiculous premise.
As it stands, approximately 80 percent of incarcerations are people of color. Even in liberal bastions, like New York City, 86 percent of people arrested for weed possession between 2014-2016 were either black or Latinx, according to a study published by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) earlier this year. Considering that 51 percent of the NYC metropolitan area is comprised of people of color, the statistics are troubling—but sadly, still, not shocking.
On top of that, socio-economic discrepancies also come into play.
“Well, how can you have a million dollars if, for the past 30 years, you and all your relatives have been getting locked up and trying to spend that money on bail money? And raising your family without a father, without an uncle, without a son? Those are the realities,” Unsworth stated.
Final Hit: (Legally) Selling Weed While Black
While issues involving race and privilege within the cannabis industry have traditionally been swept under the rug, organizations like Supernova Women are paving the way for not only discourse, but an attempt to right these wrongs.
More importantly, it’s being helmed by those directly affected by these injustices, giving disenfranchised and oppressed communities a sense of agency and empowerment.
“At least, we need to recognize that there has been an unfair—an unjust war—on people of color that has had an impact over the past 20 to 30 years and has kept them out of the cannabis industry that is now burgeoning,” Unsworth concluded. “And so, if we’re going to have folks coming into the cannabis industry, we have to at least acknowledge that there has been demonstrable damage done to a lot of these communities that would love to be entrepreneurs that should have been some of the first in line.”