Diversity remains an issue in most industries, and marijuana is no exception. Though women and people of color hold more positions of significance within the marijuana industry compared to others, these figures are still startlingly low. Massachusetts legislators have enacted laws to address this disparity, and commissioned a study in the state that will be paying close attention to gender and racial inequalities in marijuana. Here’s what we know about their study, and what it could mean for equality in weed.
Gender and Racial Inequality Prevail In Marijuana
Nowadays, when it comes to gender and race, marijuana isn’t so different from other industries. Last year, Marijuana Business Daily published a report on “Women and Minorities in the Marijuana Industry.” In it, data analyst Eli McVey shares some shocking findings.
Last year, women held only 26.9 percent of executive positions in cannabis. Across all industries nationwide, women hold a slightly lower 23 percent of executive roles. Even more concerning, women are occupying fewer and fewer position of power in marijuana. The study found that in 2015, 36 percent of executive positions holders were female.
A nine percentage point decrease over two years is not insignificant.
Minorities also hold more executive positions in the marijuana industry than on average, nationally. In 2017, people of color occupied 17 percent of these roles. In other industries, it averaged to a low 13 percent.
The largest area of minority involvement is in wholesale cultivation at over 24 percent. California, a relatively diverse state with a large population, allows wholesale cultivation while others do not.
Business, As Usual, Is Bad For Women and Minorities
These figures are more dismal than they appear. McVey elaborated on his findings to High Times, “There’s a difference between executives and owners. I think [that’s] the real rub for many in the industry.” Though women and minorities may be able to find positions within existing companies, they often don’t have the capital for licensing fees or startup costs.
This is just one of the many ways that the mainstream marijuana movement is exclusionary. Now that marijuana is big business, it’s attracting male executives from other industries. This can translate to all-too-familiar gender and racial disparities.
While some people prosper, others are pushed aside. Legal marijuana is also crushing small businesses that predate legalization. Kayvan Khalatbari of the Minority Cannabis Business Association explained to High Times, “We have to consider the fact we’re taking jobs away from these folks on the street who have been arrested.”
Not only are male-dominated industries seeping into legal weed, but the legacy of the War on Drugs bars many from employment opportunities. Lanese Martin, co-founder of Hood Incubator, an organization committed to minority involvement in marijuana, told us, “Because of the War on Drugs, black folks, unlike white folks, weren’t creating business plans, keeping receipts, putting on suits or going to their elected officials to lobby.”
Additionally, McVey adds that many states have “requirements for spotless criminal records.” This becomes another obstacle between minorities, who are much more likely to be arrested for possession across the country, and a legal career in weed.
As a result, minority involvement is decreasing. A lot of this has to do with changes in regulation.
For instance, California recently went to a fully regulated state licensing model. This means that small businesses that were open in 2017 were, most likely, unable to obtain licenses.
McVey explained, “The businesses that have state licenses are highly capitalized businesses. They’re able to navigate the complex regulatory framework. They’re able to secure spots where localities have authorized businesses to operate.”
Women and minorities generally have less access to capital than entrenched white businessmen. This means that many of the smaller businesses that were open in 2017 could have closed, or are operating illegally, today. Looking at the statistics from 2017, McVey commented, “I would have to imagine that since California has moved to a fully regulated state license model that number has fallen from 17 percent.”
Massachusetts Is Addressing Inequality From The Start
Unlike other states, which have retroactively cleared arrest records after legalization, Massachusetts passed an equity provision before recreational marijuana hits shelves. Chapter 55, an Act to Ensure Safe Access to Marijuana, addresses minority and female involvement in the industry.
The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission is working on getting women and minorities involved from the start. For starters, the state won’t require steep fees that prevent all business except big business from operating in the state. Shaleen Title, a commissioner of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, told High Times that they’re “creating a variety of license types including microbusinesses and craft cooperatives.”
They’ll also be actively helping those affected by the War on Drugs. Title describes a government program that will “provide technical assistance, waived fees, and other benefits to communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition.”
This legislation guarantees the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission’s right to conduct a study on, what it calls, “participation by minority business enterprises, women business enterprises and veteran business enterprises.”
The commission will look at who owns the businesses applying for marijuana licenses. It will also consider who is writing the legislation and will look for discrimination. They’ll renew their investigation every year.
Massachusetts Is Leading The Way For Diversity
Data on who is receiving licenses, leading cannabis corporations and profiting from legal weed can appear dismal. But some legislators are seeing legalization as an opportunity.
“We have an obligation to now reinvest in those communities [affected by prohibition]” Shalene Title wrote. “It’s 2018 and diversity is not optional.”