I’ve worked in legal cannabis for six years and have seen fewer people that look like me at the top. It’s no secret that legal cannabis, like most things, is a predominantly white industry. Black Americans are arrested for violating marijuana possession laws at nearly four times the rates of whites, yet both ethnicities consume marijuana at roughly the same rates according to NORML. A 2020 study by the ACLU concluded Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, notwithstanding comparable usage rates.
The racial disparity in legal weed is as apparent as the racial disparity with the criminal justice system. Legal cannabis is still a new frontier, with many business owners having little to no previous experience with the plant. Unfortunately, most of the opportunities are afforded to the haves, and not people who have been historically excluded and prosecuted.
Being Black and Queer in Cannabis
Throughout my tenure working in cannabis, I have never shied away from being two things outwardly: Black and queer. I am undeniably a Black man, but my choice not to conceal my sexuality is something that I found empowering. In comparison to my time spent working in corporate America, there seems to be more room to be yourself. Having a seat at some tables and being able to contribute to important conversations seems a little easier. I chalk it up to the assumed understanding that the entire industry has been built in spite of and on the backs of, Black and brown people.
My Black will always outshine my queer, so my voice and perspective remain rooted in the Black American experience. I would be remiss if I said that the legal cannabis industry is without its flaws. I have witnessed everything from racism, misogyny, and complete disregard for human life. The toxicity is another topic, but I cannot help but have faith it’s not too late to establish equity.
As the first double-dipping of Black and queer for most organizations, I’d say my queerness is celebrated differently. At times it seems to be performative and provides a feeling of diversity instead of actually being diverse. I definitely use this to my advantage. You still have to find a way or make one in an industry that is neither for nor against you.
The Road Ahead
With prominent figures still unaware of the power of words, it’s evident we have a long road ahead. Freeing incarcerated individuals that wound up in the system for simple possession is the only solution that will kickstart change. While there are government initiatives and equity programs in places like California, most of these programs have made little change.
There must be more done to create lasting change. I wish I was able to provide solutions, but am here today to push the conversation forward. I wish I had the magical fix-all for the road that lies ahead. The future of the cannabis industry for Black and queer people is possible. Only with open communication and genuine efforts will it be fruitful for everyone.
The conversation is ripe and fresh considering the efforts across the nation for racial justice. It would make sense to allocate money from defunded policing to the communities affected by their terrorizing presence. It is a complete misstep if those Black people are unable to access those funds. The industry has mostly turned a blind eye to the contributions and lasting impact of the relationship between Black people and cannabis in America.