OPINION: New York cannabis advocates’ fight for day one equity is important for all of Black America

Mary Pryor is the New York chapter president of Minorities for Medical Marijuana.

Mary Pryor, the New York Chapter President of Minorities for Medical Marijuana, explains why equity must be a part of any cannabis legislation.

Cannabis Marijuana New York thegrio.com
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New York’s cannabis advocates’ mission to legalize adult-use through the April 1st legislative state budget is stalled for now, but the fight for equity and social justice is not going anywhere anytime soon. The conversation on equity on the east coast needs support, amplification, and more facts behind why this matters.

The fight to pass cannabis regulation is far from over in New York,”, states Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “We have until the end of June to get this done in 2019. With our statewide coalition, we will take the fight to district offices, community town halls, and to the governor. We’re ready to fight, because the status quo is unacceptable.”

Economic opportunity, social justice, and fair access to this plant as medicine is at stake. Yet, when it comes to understanding the ramifications of optics and lack of opportunity in cannabis, the facts are often misunderstood or ignored. One of the key barriers is all about the Benjamins, aka, money. Capital is the key hurdle for most communities of color when it comes to existing in this space. Cannabis is quite expensive to purchase, and out of reach of reasonable budgets.

READ MORE: New York Lawmakers saying “No” to legalizing marijuana unless Blacks can benefit

Legal and Financial Barriers

Plant-touching businesses are funded through private capital without any loans, grants, or funding, due to their Schedule 1 Drug status, which involves strict regulations. At minimum, a plant-touching business needs to have a previous business in cannabis, plus 5 – 10 million dollars in fluid capital ready before thinking about applying for a license as a dispensary, cultivator, processor, or manufacturer in the United States.
While there is an uptick in news stories focusing on expungement efforts, pathways to ownership from the illicit market are not clear for those coming into a legalized market. Citizens with a criminal cannabis offense cannot own or operate a plant-touching business. Once an expungement process clears a record, most policy items do not address the lack of pathways to work and ownership within the cannabis industry. As for New York, the state constitution allows for records to be sealed, a process known as vacating. This still allows for probable discrimination in the hiring process, given all of the stigmas placed on formerly incarcerated citizens. Taking all of this into consideration offers vast opportunities in the ancillary business market.

Curating interest around non-plant-touching business requires less strenuous capital and allows for greater flexibility when it comes to managing a stabilized business. Cultivation and retail metrics software startup co-founder, Jacobi Holland of Jade Insights, wants to see New York go green with equity at the forefront.

I’m excited that adult-use legalization is being considered in New York. I want adult-use marijuana legalization for many reasons, but I am so proud of the people that have spoken up about Day One Equity, because legalization by any means necessary is not the answer,” Holland said. “I hope that if legalization is not passed with the budget, we refine the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (CRTA) to prioritize minorities that have been impacted by the War on Drugs, and when we try again, that is the focal point. Restoration back into these communities is the most important aspect of this entire initiative.”

Ashaki Fenderson of Tainted Love, a well known cannabis education and culinary arts business, is a business advocate driving insights and conversations on what New York state can do to support businesses in the secondary market that want to come out of the shadows. She is hopeful but mindful that a lot of education is needed across the state when it comes to changing opinions around cannabis. She states, “I still think that New York can set the tone for the rest of the country around Cannabis legalization, social justice and equity. Now it is just a matter of WHAT tone we set.”

READ MORE: New Jersey’s push to legalize recreational marijuana stalls

By the Numbers

The 2017 Women and Minorities in the Marijuana Industry Report from Marijuana Business Daily provides statistical data to support why equity has to be part of the cannabis conversation. Here are some statistics to shape your head around equity what the current landscape looks like for minority-owned businesses in cannabis. Social equity and policy provisions are one of the best ways to address economic inequalities within this industry.

Women executives in the cannabis industry: 36% (2015) vs. 27% (2017)  

2017 – Minority executives in the cannabis industry: 17%

2017 – Female minority executives in the cannabis industry: 5.3%

2017 – Breakdown of marijuana business owners and founders by race: 81% White, 6.7% Other, Hispanic & Latino 5.7%, African-American 4.3%, Asian 2.4%

2017 – Breakdown of marijuana business owners and founders by race and business type: (Ancillary) African-American – 5.6%   (Plant-Touching) African- American – 2.7%

Taking Action

When you consider the indigenous origin of a cannabis plant and systemically deep injustices towards Black and Latino populations since Prohibition in 1937, it is grossly concerning how this industry aims to keep communities harmed by the War on Drugs.

Solutions are viable and do exist, and there are quite a few organizations and businesses actively working towards equity and fact-filled educational awareness, such as Minorities for Medical Marijuana, Minority Cannabis Business Association, The People’s Dispensary, Supernova Women, The Hood Incubator, Cannaclusive, and the Cannabis Education Advocacy Symposium and Expo (CEASE)

Social equity policy, education, ancillary business awareness, and restorative justice policy provisions are some of the best ways to address economic inequalities within this industry. These factors, along with education, can reduce stigmas and false information that will hinder progress for those who truly need cannabis as medicine to live, and provide a chance to build generational wealth.

Among her colleagues, Mary Pryor is known for being a trendsetting, innovative, passionate and strategic problem-solver for over a decade. Mary has always been ahead of the curve due to being immersed in automotive design, electrical engineering, music, education, digital arts, and marketing, while being raised in Detroit. She is a bicoastal media expert;  co-founder and CEO of Cannaclusive, a collective focused on inclusion in the cannabis industry; New York chapter president of Minorities for Medical Marijuana; and  serves as the current New York advocate for The People’s Dispensary.