Members of the Washington D.C. Council advanced legislation to give local minority-owned companies a preference when applying for licenses to operate medical marijuana businesses.
While states generally don’t track the race and ethnicity of weed license applicants, it’s obvious to anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past decade that most dispensaries and the vast majority of growing operations around the country are overwhelmingly dominated by white men.
This lack of minority representation is especially problematic given that African Americans were—and still are—disproportionately arrested and incarcerated during the War on Drugs, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Marijuana use is roughly equal among blacks and whites, yet blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for possession, noteed the ACLU.
However, the nation’s capital is the latest jurisdiction to join a growing nationwide effort to ensure that minorities are in a position to profit from legal weed sales after decades of being disproportionately prosecuted for using and selling it.
“We at the D.C. government have an obligation to make sure that minorities and local small businesses can get in on the ground floor and secure a piece of this foundation,” said council member Robert C. White Jr., who sponsored the recently passed legislation.
“We have locked up so many black people for marijuana, and I see it as incredibly hypocritical for those folks to return from prison on marijuana charges just to come back to a place that has now legalized and industrialized it, and they can’t play any role,” said White, according to the Washington Post. “Now, it could be a boon to these communities, but minorities have been left out.”
According to the Post, the emergency bill to give minority-owned businesses extra weight on their applications comes as the District is preparing to award a permit to open a dispensary in the overwhelmingly black neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.
A spokeswoman for D.C.’s Mayor Muriel E. Bowser says she’s still reviewing the legislation, but her administration is taking steps to implement it.
What goes on in Washington, D.C., apart from the all-out insanity in the White House?
D.C. currently has eight weed cultivation centers and five dispensaries. Only one cultivator is black. The ethnic composition of Washington, D.C. is 49 percent black, 43.6% percent.
Why the disparity?
According to a study released by the Urban Institute, although D.C. has undergone an economic boom over the past several years, the city’s poor and largely minority residents are missing out on the gravy train.
The study showed that the number of new businesses in the nation’s capital exploded over the past 15 years, but in the poorest neighborhoods the number has actually dropped.
The above-mentioned “east of the Anacostia River” is an area that, being relatively equal in terms of population to other D.C. neighborhoods, has missed out on most of the development seen in the city’s center.
Washington, D.C. also happens to be one of the most segregated cities in the country, according to data guru Nate Silver, who crunched the numbers.
Thankfully, this past February, D.C. lifted its prohibition against felons convicted of possession with the intent to distribute marijuana from entering the medical marijuana industry, citing the obvious racial disparities in how the law was enforced.
In Oakland, California, the city council has specifically set aside half of its cannabis business permits for people arrested for drug crimes in the city or who come from neighborhoods with many drug arrests.