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How to Diversify the Legal Marijuana Market

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African-Americans are having a hard time getting into the legal marijuana business. It’s wrong, and there is a simple solution to the problem—but it’s a solution that remains impractical in the current political environment.

The marijuana industry is tightly regulated in many states; this has become an absolute requirement to build political support for legalization through either the initiative or legislative process. In many states, market access is controlled though strict limits on the number of licenses that will be granted for cultivation and/or retail dispensaries.

According to the Washington Post, “Many states bar convicted drug felons from the industry, disproportionately hurting minorities because of historically higher conviction rates. Others have set high investment requirements. Some dole out licenses through appointed commissions that industry researchers say reward the politically connected, who by and large are wealthy and white.”

In Maryland, the state has granted 15 companies licenses to grow marijuana for the state’s new medical marijuana program, and none of them are led by African-Americans.

Last week, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams held a hearing on the issue in response to a lawsuit alleging that regulators did not consider racial diversity in awarding the licenses.

Meanwhile, the city of Oakland has implemented a new process to close the racial disparity gap in its medical marijuana industry, offering applicants a series of incentives to help address factors that have obstructed minority access to the growing marijuana industry.

Another argument pushed by those fighting for greater minority participation in the legal marijuana market is that prohibition has disproportionately affected African Americans. The Associated Press recently used this narrative to frame their examination of efforts in six states (including Maryland and California) to encourage minority participation in the industry.

It’s as if it’s OK to limit access to the market, but also that African-Americans deserve some of the bounty from such limits, as reparations for being victimized by the War on Drugs in such a disproportionate manner over the years.

African-Americans have been victimized by marijuana prohibition; racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests have been widely reported in the last several years (in part due to research by this author.) They deserve a chance to profit from the legal marijuana market, just like anyone else.

So, here’s a radical idea.

Legalize marijuana, but don’t over-regulate it.

That’s the approach recommended by this author and the late Michael Kennedy, then director of Trans-High Corporation and the High Times Growth Fund in a report entitled, “Let it Grow: The Open Market Solution to Marijuana Control,” published in the Harm Reduction Journal.

Simply put, both society and marijuana consumers are better served by an open, free market than an over-regulated market designed to limit participation and artificially inflate the price of marijuana.

In addition to addressing public policy concerns, such as elimination of the black market, restricting teenage market access and enhancing consumer safety, an open market also provides for free competition in ways that eliminate many of the current obstacles to African-American participation.

A free market is a diverse market, in which success is based on merit and competence, rather than imperfect selection criteria and political connections.

It’s not okay to limit access to the legal marijuana market. African-Americans deserve equal access to the market, and so do all Americans.

Let the market grow; it’s time to embrace the open market solution to marijuana legalization.

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