Weed, White Privilege and the Need for Diversity in US Cannabis Industry

Weed, White Privilege and the Need for Diversity in US Cannabis Industry

Legalised in many US states, cannabis has had a boost in its cool credentials. But is this budding green industry really the new black? As white business owners disproportionately dominate marijuana dispensaries, the weed boom exposes a two-tier justice system in which racism prevails.

cannabis market is riding high across the US. At the time of
writing, 33 states, four US territories and D.C. have legalised the
use of medical marijuana, with 11 of these giving the thumbs up to
its recreational use too. The use of CBD – in which the
psychoactive THC compound is at a negligible dose – is more
widespread still. Don’t be surprised if you see cannabidiol-infused
chocolates, oils and even tampons on your local high street. By
2030, the US sales of cannabis are predicted to reach $80 billion.

Why the popularity? As many of us struggle to cope with the
pressures of modern life, the anxiety economy is growing.
Fluctuating political, economic and cultural climates are fuelling
fear and instability, driving consumers towards self-care products
– including cannabis and CBD – that promise hyper-wellbeing.

The Cannabis
made US history in 2019 for being the first restaurant to
serve cannabis products alongside its food. Pioneered by long-term
advocates for the legalisation of cannabis, its aim is to provide a
positive space for people to enjoy the benefits of CBD and
cannabis-infused products. But if hot chicken tenders with a side
of 3C Farm Black Lotus doesn’t hit the spot, perhaps a “Colorado
Bliss” treatment involving a CBD-oil massage at St Julien Hotel &
may be the tamer kind of 420 experience you’ll enjoy.
Alongside products that are created purely as medical aids for
anxiety, such bespoke experiences offer natural stress relief free
of the withdrawal symptoms often associated with comparable Western

Yet it’s hard to ignore the fact that – like many industries –
this budding, green enterprise is being whitewashed, and that’s
despite the fact that consumption rates between Black and White
people are roughly the same. In 2017, Marijuana Business Daily found that less than
four per cent of the US’s marijuana dispensaries were owned by
Black people, with a further 5.7 per cent being owned by people of
Hispanic or Latino origin and 2.4 per cent by those with Asian

This racial disparity is particularly poignant when you consider
that a predominantly White LA neighbourhood might be enjoying hash
brownies in cafés, while another locale would be more likely to
have its residents arrested for enjoying the same thing. That
“other” often involves people of colour, those historically
portrayed as the violent or criminal, incapable of following rules
and in need of extreme discipline, which is often validated by the
prison industrial system. Almost 80 per cent of people serving time
for drug offences are Black or Latino, and 60 per cent of those in
state prisons on drug charges are people of colour.

While it could be said that the legalisation of cannabis has
begun to destigmatise the marijuana industry, it is also clear that
there are limits to what cultural shifts can achieve. Cannabis
arrests now account for more than half of all drug offences in
America, with Black people four times more likely to get arrested
for the same offence as their White counterparts, despite roughly
equal consumption rates. Statistics show that in 2018 more than
1.6 million people were arrested for drug-law
violations, with the average Black person serving a sentence of 58.7
, roughly the same amount of time a White defendant would
serve for a more serious violent crime (61.7 months).

For those who don’t face criminal charges for drug possession,
their sense of relief is short-lived as states move towards
charging individuals with crippling court fees and fines instead of pushing for tax
increases to fund their court systems. In Texas, a minor drug
possession could result in a fine of up to $2,000 (£1,600). As such
monetary penalties disproportionately impact people of colour, they
underscore the racially segregated lines of poverty and rates of imprisonment.

While these charges may seem relatively small to some
individuals, people on low incomes often struggle to pay off these
debts, making it harder for them to successfully move through
society. When we look at the correlation between punishment,
poverty and inequality, we realise that the dramatic increase in
America’s prison population is inherently linked to the War on
Drugs. By and large, the increased demand for more cannabis
products and experiences has not changed the realities for Black
and Hispanic people – mainly men – who fall victim to America’s
criminal justice system.

The cannabis industry is, of course, one of many ways that
racism, privilege and their consequences have become entrenched in
everyday life. Do something concrete to change the material
conditions of Black, Hispanic and other people of colour.
Educate yourself
. Support Black-owned businesses. Donate to the
organisation that work tirelessly to make sure that people who are
targeted by America’s criminal justice system are seen and

Four Black-owned cannabis and CBD companies you can support
(where it’s legal, of course)

Kush and Cute

Specialising in handmade, all-natural hemp and CBD skin care as
well as “high-quality canna-lifestyle smoke supplies”, Kush and Cute
has a retro aesthetic that gives the cannabis world a playful touch
while encouraging diversity and inclusivity in the industry.

Simply Pure

“Not grown. Crafted.” is the tagline at Denver’s first Black-owned
run by military veterans Wanda James and Scott
Durrah. Alongside serving vegan edibles, concentrates and flowers,
they operate a quality small-batch farm that was voted the “Best
Flavour Champion” at Colorado’s 2018 The Grow Off Competition.

99th Floor

Doug Cohen and chef Miguel Trinidad want to destigmatise the
cannabis industry by transforming fine dining into
high dining
. Its multi-course, subtly dosed menus rank among
New York City’s most highly acclaimed, invite-only cannabis
experiences, while the brand also sells low-dose edibles from


Owned by former NBA player Al Harrington, Viola (named after
Harrington’s grandmother) ranks among the US’s leading cannabis
companies. You can pick up its dank flowers, pre-rolls and extracts
in the form of diamonds, moon rocks, sauces and waxes from
locations in Colorado, Oregon and California among many states.
Check online.

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