Winter 2020

From the Editor: Increasing Diversity

Cannabis-drug interactions are a concern for all patients, but older adults who take multiple medications are at greatest risk.

In this issue of CRx, journalist Marilyn Fenichel talks with advocate and entrepreneur Wanda James about the uphill battle racial minorities face in getting a toehold in the business.

It’s no secret that a direct result of cannabis prohibition was the mass incarceration of people of color. And while black and brown people bear an excessive burden of severe legal penalties for cannabis use, they’re vastly underrepresented when it comes to ownership of cannabis businesses. And there’s a line of dots that directly connect one discrepancy to the other.

One result of the unjust burden of incarceration and the failure of criminal justice reform has been the erection of barriers to entry in the industry. In 2017, Marijuana Business Daily reported that only 19% of cannabis business owners or those with a stake in ownership are racial minorities.

Further, a lack of minority-owned businesses may dissuade patients from exploring therapeutic options that might prove beneficial, and the continuing risks associated with cannabis possession among people of color may also discourage legal use of medical cannabis. Thus, this lack of diversity in the cannabis industry—the legacy of the failed war on drugs—isn’t only a business issue, and working toward diversity shouldn’t be an effort led only by those with strictly business interests.

Awareness and activism are everyone’s concern. Some of the key problems and challenges facing the cannabis industry and affecting medical cannabis providers—prohibition, lack of diversity, and drug scheduling—are intertwined. It’s essential that medical cannabis providers stay aware of proposed strategies for turning the tide, from state and local social equity programs to the use of federal funds to tip the balance, contribute to the development of new strategies, and advocate for decriminalization, record expungement, and rescheduling.

It’s key, as well, to encourage, follow, and promote legislative reform, such as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019, a bipartisan push introduced by Sen Kamala Harris and Rep Jerrold Nadler to decriminalize and deschedule cannabis, removing it as a Schedule 1 narcotic from the Controlled Substances Act.

It’s up to each individual with a stake in the industry—from business owners to practitioners of cannabis medicine—to support organizations and businesses working to remove the burdens and challenges and increase minority presence in the industry, such as the ACLU, Minorities for Medical Marijuana, the Minority Cannabis Business Association, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the Marijuana Policy Project, Cage-Free Cannabis, and Equity First Alliance.

To begin to be part of the solution, raise your voice in the conversations that move the needle on social justice issues pertaining to cannabis.

— Kate Jackson


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