As marijuana legalization spreads across the country, minority entrepreneurs have so far failed to make inroads in a once-clandestine business that made them targets of the justice system.
But some legislators are determined to change that.
In New Jersey, for example, a marijuana bill—expected to pass in 2020—will mandate that 25 percent of legal marijuana licenses are set aside for minorities. Similarly, in New York, black legislators have declared that they will not vote yes on any marijuana bills unless minorities get a portion of the profits of an industry business that some estimates value at over $3 billion.
If they are successful, Greenbox NYC, a small cannabis-delivery company founded by two African Americans, will be among the first to benefit.
Co-founder Andrew Farrior said one of the reasons he and his partner are determined to enter the industry is because the issue is personal to their communities.
“People have gone to prison for this,” he told The Crime Report, “but then you can go to YouTube and watch someone make weed brownies and get millions of hits.”
“The fairness seems to be off.”
Farrior believes the competition will be fierce once New Jersey and New York legalize, so he’s not wasting any time.
“You have to enter at a time where you can gain traction ahead of others,” he said, noting that the delay in legalization is helpful “because we still have time to do events, and prepare for when the rush happens.”
Farrior, 30, and his partner Ethan Jackson, 28, grew up together in Anniston, Ala., and decided to become business partners when they were in their late twenties.
Jackson got the idea for Greenbox after visiting Las Vegas, Nev. The state legalized recreational marijuana in 2017, and Jackson recalls being struck by the long lines forming at marijuana dispensaries.
He decided there was an opening for a more “efficient” way to distribute marijuana: a delivery service.
Pending cannabis legalization, Greenbox is able to sell CBD product (Cannabidiol, which comes from a cannabis plant and is legal), and their first delivery box will be sent out nationwide in four weeks— they have 450 people on their wait list from New York and New Jersey.
Their long-term goal is to open a cannabis delivery service app in Manhattan, where individuals can order a daily box of marijuana products on their phones.
Currently, Farrior lives in Harlem, and Jackson lives in Atlanta, but they plan on moving to Harlem full-time within the coming year.
They get their products from Folium Biosciences, one of the world’s largest CBD wholesaler in the world. Founded in Colorado Springs, CO, Folium Bioscienes is the first U.S. company to receive a legal license to grow hemp.
The two entrepreneurs of Greenbox are entering a white-dominated industry.
According to data, less than a fifth of marijuana business owners are racial minorities, and only 4.3 percent are black.
Ten states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational pot so far. According to a New York Times report, as of March, none of them have made an effort to ensure that minority communities share in the economic “windfall” of legalization. A legalization bill is now awaiting the governor’s signature in Illinois, making it the 11th state. The bill approved Friday would automatically expunge the criminal records of people convicted of minor pot possession, reports USA Today.
No similar information is available for the 33 states that have legalized medical marijuana.
The debates in New York and New Jersey have been influenced by the long history of victimization of minority communities during the war on drugs. Young African-American males were the particular targets of arrests for marijuana possession, leaving them with criminal records that affected their ability to get jobs.
Despite roughly equal usage rates, blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana across the U.S., according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Even as the New York Police Department has sharply reduced arrests for possession of minor amounts of pot, blacks and Hispanics are still disproportionately affected.
That has only made black legislators determined to avoid what they consider the failure of other states to encourage the same diversity of opportunity that is now expected in other industries.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week that passing marijuana legalization was a top priority.
But Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly, and the first black woman to serve as Assembly majority leader, is just as determined to ensure minorities have an equal chance to profit from marijuana legalization.
“If (minority ownership is) not required in the statute, then it won’t happen,” she told the New York Times.
Farrior acknowledged he and his partner face an uphill battle for funding, simply because of who they are.
“People would tell us ‘you being black founders, your ideas may not go over as well with potential investors,’ ” Farrior recalled.
So they had to be “just a little bit more” knowledgeable than their peers to keep up, Farrior said.
But he’s so confident that legalization will happen he is already making plans to donate some of their company’s expected revenues to charity.
“Jackson and I feel a responsibility to re-distribute our success back to our community,” he said.
They plan, for example, to donate some of their earnings to the Ascend Education Fund, a New York City-based non-profit that helps immigrant families achieve education opportunities.
In the long run, they would like to do an accelerated program, to help other minority entrepreneurs enter the legal marijuana business.
They plan on helping them with investor materials, finding advisors, and getting in front of people who can “continue their business plans.”
Megan Hadley is the senior staff reporter for the Crime Report.