Now that Microsoft has determined jumping into a nascent industry still fighting for legitimacy is worth the risk, it is clear the marijuana business is no longer just a cool hobby. Microsoft has decided it’s a valid enterprise, and with that comes many growing pains and problem-solving opportunities for those in the know — like Wanda James and Shaleen Title.
Wanda James is a co-owner of Simply Pure, the only Black female-run cannabis dispensary in Colorado — a state where marijuana has been legal since Dec. 10, 2012. She and many others have been vocal proponents of ensuring big players in the “green rush” don’t forget those upon whose backs the industry was built. James recently pointed out to workshop participants at the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit that marijuana arrests of Black teens were up 50 percent, but down 9 percent for White teens in the first two years after legalization in Colorado.
“Here are White men poised to run big marijuana businesses, dreaming of cashing in big — big money, big businesses selling weed — after 40 years of impoverished Black kids getting prison time for selling weed, and their families and futures destroyed,” Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, shared during a talk published on the Drug Policy Alliance’s website. “Now, White men are planning to get rich doing precisely the same thing?”
Marijuana legalization presents the possibility of economic relief, and even reparations, to those over-criminalized communities targeted for many years by the so-called war on drugs.
Shaleen Title co-founded a recruiting firm that emphasizes inclusion in cannabis companies, and in a piece written for The Influence, she encourages everyone to hold the industry accountable for taking at least these three steps toward repairing past injustices:
- 1. Allow people who have been arrested for or convicted of drug offenses to obtain marijuana business licenses and seek employment in the industry. Many state laws currently prohibit this.
- 2. Create licensing processes that allow more businesses and lower barriers to entry. In certain states, the process has been designed to strongly favor wealthy and politically connected (read: White) applicants.
- 3. Collect data to quantify the disproportionately small number of people of color in the marijuana industry. Maryland is the only state that requires an annual report on minority owners and employees.
What do you think? Would you go out of your way to support companies creating economic empowerment for people previously harmed by the war on drugs?