Even though research shows people of all races are equally likely to have broken the law by growing, smoking, or selling marijuana, black people are much more likely to have been arrested for it and as a result, more likely to now have a criminal record because of it. Since every state that has legalized medical or recreational marijuana bans people with drug felonies from working at, owning, investing in, or sitting on the board of a cannabis business – black Americans are now missing out on the economic opportunities created by legalization.
“It really does piss me off,” Unique Henderson of Colorado told BuzzFeed after his white friend was hired and he wasn’t. His friend still works at that dispensary, and makes a lot more money than Henderson does. “And to see a lot of people come to Colorado to work in weed, that pisses me off even more. They’re coming here, living comfortable, and it’s like, I could be doing the same thing, but I can’t, because of my past with marijuana.”
Based on more than 150 interviews with dispensary owners, industry insiders, and salespeople who interact with a lot of pot shops, it appears that fewer than three dozen of the 3,200 to 3,600 storefront marijuana dispensaries in the United States are owned by black people — about 1%.
Legalizing marijuana sounds revolutionary, but with each passing day, the same class of rich white men that control all other industries are tightening their grip on this one.
Legalization is beginning to pick up speed, driven forward by popular demand. Public support for marijuana legalization has more than doubled over the past 20 years, hitting a recent high of 58%, while support for keeping nonviolent drug offenders locked up for long periods of time has been cut in half, to a low of 23%.
However, no existing marijuana law tries to account for or acknowledge the harm prohibition has done to communities of color. And the few black people who have managed to start cannabis businesses or apply for licenses have sometimes found themselves subject to discriminatory law enforcement. They’ve been followed by the stigma that black people who sell pot are dangerous criminals and white people who do the same are harmless hippies.
What are your thoughts on marijuana legalization as it relates to black Americans?