The effects of mass incarceration have a disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minorities, and especially on Black Americans. Black Americans are far more likely to be arrested and convicted for drug crimes than white Americans, despite the fact that these populations use drugs at similar rates. – Human Rights Foundation
Colorado’s regulated cannabis industry counts among its members an alarmingly and unacceptable low number of people of color. People who are missing the opportunity to build generational wealth, blocked from accessing opportunities in what now is a flourishing industry.
While the reasons for the lack of representation of people of color in the industry are numerous, many of the barriers to entry have roots in the disparate impact that the War on Drugs had on our communities. I founded The Color of Cannabis to increase the number of minorities working in the cannabis industry by providing a pathway for restorative economic and criminal justice to these communities.
I applaud Gov. Jared Polis’ recent initiative to create a Cannabis Advancement Program or CAP in the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, which will provide grants and low-interest loans to social equity applicants who bore the brunt of the devastation brought by the War on Drugs. We are optimistic that this effort will enjoy legislative support so that OEDIT can move on to implementation.
We also celebrate the Legislature’s criminal justice reform work, which included legislation that defined “social equity applicant” and gave the Governor the ability to issue an executive order that pardoned over 2,700 individuals with marijuana offenses for activity that is now legal. Local jurisdictions like Aurora and Denver are ensuring social equity access as they stand up delivery and social consumption licenses.
However, there is so much more work to do to dismantle the systematic racism that has a strangle hold on our country’s institutions.
That is why the discussions about state legislation that would cap the potency of products in the regulated marijuana market stuns me. This initiative, if successful, will undo the progress we have been making on the social equity front and result in the same devastating consequences as those caused by the War on Drugs. Let me be clear — the two efforts cannot be reconciled.
First, capping THC-concentration strikes at the core of the most accessible path for social equity applicants to participate in the industry other than delivery and social consumption licenses. Manufacturing marijuana infused products does not require the same level of capital investment that cultivations or retail operations do.
Second, removing these products from the regulated market will not remove consumer demand for them. Rather, the black market will take the opportunity to move back into this space, selling them to our citizens without regard to age restrictions or to any other public health and safety regulations the legal industry scrupulously adheres to including testing, labelling, and packaging requirements.
It is said that this potency-cap legislation is meant to address the issue of youth access to these products. While the Color of Cannabis agrees that youth should not be in possession of marijuana, a potency cap is not a solution. True solutions lie in research, education, and providing behavioral health resources to schools and mental health professionals. We cannot close opportunities for social equity applicants – everyone deserves the chance to climb a career ladder that reaches to the top tiers of this $1.6 billion-dollar industry.
Sara Woodson is the founder of the Color of Cannabis, an organization advocating openly, unapologetically, and responsibly for people of color to participate in the cannabis industry.