By Erik Range, CEO ART420 LLC and Board Chair at Minoritiesfor Medical Marijuana
It is no secret that minorities have a lot of ground to cover if the cannabis industry is to ever reflect the rich diversity which makes America, America. A recent report published by Marijuana Business Daily shows that Whites make up over 80 percent of marijuana business owners, compared to only 4.3 percent of Blacks. This is an increase from previous reports, but it is far from real progress.
Despite slow progress, minorities aren't sitting on their hands idly waiting for things to change. Groups like Minorities For Medical Marijuana are crisscrossing the country educating marginalized communities about employment opportunities and working with cannabis operators to create internship opportunities for students. Women Grow, another group which has been very active in the industry, focused their efforts on the inclusion of women in the industry.
Women were front and center all over the industry in 2018. Last year, the industry saw what some might say was an explosion of women owned businesses, including businesses owned by women of color. Given the many articles written highlighting the accomplishments and the businesses owned/ operated by women, one might think that women had arrived.
Still it is unclear if increased visibility has translated into a higher level of acceptance for women in the industry or a decrease in barriers to achieving success. Women continue to face challenges in navigating an overwhelming male dominated industry. At the very least the industry has increased its willingness to consume media about women of color, and women in general.
But what of the men of color in the industry, do they really exist? The answer is yes, but they certainly are not represented in significant numbers at national conferences. You may find a few browsing exhibit halls as spectators or working as booth staff. With some luck, you may get to see a conference presentation or key note speech from a man of color. Their absence from the mainstream may be deceiving however.
The knowledge bank of cannabis information possessed by men of color is not empty by a long stretch. Although prohibition was catastrophic to their communities and they have paid, and continue to pay, an incalculable price, men of color are not new to cannabis. And those that are, bring with them years of knowledge and expertise from relevant industries which are valuable for the cannabis industry.
If you really want to find the men of color in cannabis, look in the very communities destroyed by prohibition, or in your local city halls and state houses. A shared thread among men of color across all industries, including cannabis, is a commitment to their communities and to advocacy. Those who are successful see their success as a means to serve their communities. A win for them is a win for their community.
There is very little argument that the industry has a problem. The number of businesses owned and operated by men of color in cannabis is far from what we might hope. Yet, solutions to this issue remain elusive.
Minority men, in particular black men, are faced with insurmountable challenges when seeking to enter this bustling new industry. Everything from blatant state laws that prohibit entry to those with previous arrest records. To subtle discriminatory rules which create prohibitive barriers to entry for minorities. And say nothing of the impossibility of raising adequate capital from institutional and private investors.
They endure beyond points any normal individual would. And they do so because of an immense sense of pride and obligation.
An obligation they have to themselves and their families who sacrifice so they can realize their dreams. But more importantly, and above any sense of self, they do it as an obligation to their communities. Communities which have been overburdened by fatherless homes due to disproportionately high rates of incarceration, a lasting legacy of the "War on Drugs."
The men of color in the cannabis industry may be few, but the impact they are creating will undoubtedly be monumental. Cannabis has offered them a way forward, and as they ascend to success they open doors for others. They send the ladder back down in the form of jobs, opportunity and mentorship. Because like a father is to his son, men of color are the superheroes of their communities. They show up to life always wearing two suits - that of King T'Challa in business and Black Panther in the community.
To the men of color in cannabis, continue to shine your light for those who choose to follow.
Men of Color in Cannabis (the following list is not comprehensive):
Leo Bridgewater, Rani Soto, Dr. Terel Newton, Jose Belen, Marvin Washington, Donnie Anderson, Mekah King, Jake Plowden, Jesse Horton, Montel Williams, Dr. Marino Chanlatte, Ricky "Freeway Rick" Ross, Dr. Jose Ramos, Eugene Monroe, Virgil Grant, Al Harrington, Dr. Jackson Garth, Jamal Hackler, Treyous Jerrells, Peter Harris, Charles Frazier, Chris Alexander, David Moett, Brian Williams, Eric Logan, Michael "Coach" Harris, Lawrence Gantt, Nick Moody, Stanley Atkins II, Sean Tolliver, Dr. Resean Hodges, Boo Williams, Jacobi Holland, Sterling Crockett, Amani Toomer, James Sweeney, David Beckford, Micah Garrison, Dr. Eric Mitchell, Derwin Wallace, James Watkins, Travis Finguz, Justin Ivey, Bruce Goldman, Brian Athaide, Sean Sangster, Matthew Bowman, Jermyn Shannon El, Ngaio Bealum, Kheph Rakhu, Bonnie Graham III, Timothy Island, Henry Bell, David Kellman, Nadir Pearson, Derrell Black, William (Billy) Reynolds, Mike James and so many others.
The author, Erik Range, is also a man of color who serves as the Board Chair for Minorities For Medical Marijuana, a 501c3 non-profit organization focused on public policy, patient advocacy and education, social justice, and business development for minorities in the cannabis industry. You can contact the organization or join at www.m4mmunited.org. This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
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