In the lead-up to the fourth annual Cannabis World Congress Business (CWCB) Exposition in New York City on Friday, Rev. Al Sharpton had strong words for the cannabis industry.
Sharpton, a famous civil rights activist and political commentator known for (and sometimes criticized for) his left-leaning views on race, said that people of color need to do more to break into the industry.
According to the Huffington Post, Sharpton said that “Just because I don’t use marijuana as a minister, does not mean I have the right to impose my moral values on others. However, I will challenge the cannabis industry and its distributors in states where it is legal to support civil rights movements and ensure that we are not disproportionately excluded from business opportunities.”
The cannabis industry itself has been largely white.
Last year, a Buzzfeed report found just one percent of all dispensaries were black-owned. That being said, and despite his comment, Sharpton’s remarks deal more with the current incarceration problem. Countless research has shown people of color are disproportionately arrested for marijuana possession and related crimes—even though blacks and white smoke weed at similar rates, blacks are arrested at a two to four times higher rate.
Due to Sharpton’s influence in the African American community, his comments could do much to spur action in the legal market, particularly by older African Americans.
This point was not lost to Scott Giannotti, managing director of CWCB Expo Events, who said to the Huffington Post in an email: “Decriminalization and diversity are hot buttons for this industry, and there is a low percentage of canna-businesses owned by people of color. To have one of the nation’s most prominent voices speak on this topic at CWCBExpo is an extreme honor. This is a turning point for the industry, and we are proud to have Rev. Sharpton inspire real action forward.”
Sharpton’s words echo those of Jake Salazar, CEO of MMJ America, who was selected for the Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce—the first marijuana business to do so.
He told High Times back in March, in reference to acceptance among the Latino population, “Yeah there’s a lot of work to be done still. It’s accepted, there’s definitely some big companies represented on this board. It took a long time to be considered and nominated for that position, so it’s still not as mainstream as people might think. But it’s come a long way.”