While social equity has been a selling point for marijuana legalization for states around the country, with New York most recently setting a goal of getting 50 percent of licenses to minorities and other social equity applicants after instituting broad legalization of the drug last month, so far the goals have far outstripped realities, partly due to legal entanglements as states look to broaden diversity in cannabis boardrooms, retail shops, production plants and greenhouses, reports the Associated Press.
The limited statistics available indicate business owners and investors at the top of the booming industry remain overwhelmingly white. For example, while Nevada has a population that is 30 percent Latino and ten percent Black, the state’s first demographic survey of the cannabis industry released earlier this year showed only about 2 percent of board members identified as Black and just over 7 percent Latino.
In some cases, aspiring social equity licensees face predatory contracts, with profits and control largely in the hands of investors. In others, they’ve been overmatched in a cutthroat market dominated by international companies valued at millions and sometimes billions of dollars.
In addition, states like Colorado and Washington, despite both legalizing marijuana in 2012, and cities like Los Angeles, which opened for business in 2018, have only just now begun to launch programs in pursuit of social equity. Pot also remains illegal federally, which can make loans and other banking services hard to find.
According to a 2020 study by the American Civil Liberties Union, Black people in the United States are nearly four times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite comparable usage. The study analyzed marijuana possession arrests from 2010 to 2018.
Additional reading: After Green Rush, Canada’s Legal Pot Suppliers Stumbling.