The history of cannabis in America is deeply intertwined with that of Black Americans. From the demonization and prohibition of the plant in the early part of the 20th century to Richard Nixon’s war on drugs and President Reagan’s expansion of that war, racism against Black people has been at the forefront of marijuana’s legacy. Weed is now legal in many places but Black Americans are still more than three times more likely to be arrested for a non-violent cannabis crime than White Americans. We’re looking at the present and future of equity in weed culture with David Downs. He’s a Senior Editor at Leafly.
KCRW: Just last week, the Fresno City Council voted to set up an equity fund. Several other cities around California including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland have done the same...what exactly do these types of equity funds do to address diversity? How have they affected Black Californians?
David Downs: “These equity funds first started in Oakland after medical marijuana, when activists there realized that you need a lot of intergenerational wealth to get a store open. You need a million dollars in a year.
What these equity programs try to do is create carve outs in the licensing for equity applicants and provide them loans or job training or incubators, things to put a stool underneath them so they can reach into the world of cannabis. Similar to other people who have different advantages.
People who apply who qualify for these equity programs tend to be from neighborhoods that had a lot of drug policing or individuals who had a past cannabis conviction. That stands apart from past regulations, which said if you dealt pot, you couldn't be part of the legal industry. And a lot of people have seen problems with that.
Other ways to qualify for equity programs are listed in some of these states. They've graduated from the cities of California to the state of California, which now has an equity program to further spur these programs locally and into other states across the country are starting to consider it.”
Let's switch for a second to black owned cannabis businesses that are able to make it in the state. What are some black owned weed businesses that people should know about?
Downs: “Yeah, it bears mentioning that California has one of the oldest legal, medical and adult use markets in the world. African-Americans and other people of color have been in on the ground floor since the beginning. It makes sense that California is a place where equity has advanced the furthest:
- In LA, we’re seeing a lot of waves being made by Chris Ball at Ball Family Farms.
- Up in Oakland, we’re seeing the Oakland Extracts brand from Tarran Buxton really take off.
You’ll also see a lot of former pro-athletes in the cannabis space:
- Viola Brands from former Golden State Warriors Al Harrington serves really great cannabis.
- Same with Deuces 22 from former NBA player John Salley. He took all of his daughter’s college money out of her fund at her request to start that cannabis business.
There are also a lot of African-American celebrities that have made money in the cannabis space:
- The rapper Xzibit has a big, pretty cool brand called Napalm.
- Famous rapper Jay-Z is now in the California market with his brand Monogram.
If people wanted to find Black-owned cannabis businesses, how would they go about doing that? Does Leafly have a list?
Downs: “That's correct. And we're adding it to it regularly.
We also started a new project at Leafly called Lumen. That's a digital space highlighting Black voices in cannabis. It's got this Afro-futurist look and a Tumblr feel. It's just telling stories of African-Americans in the space.”
What kind of stories are on Lumen?
Downs: “These are national stories of African-Americans in the cannabis industry and how they're doing it.
One of the stories involves this gentleman Seun Adedeji and he's from Nigeria but also came to America and grew up in a home that wasn't very great.
He basically got in a cannabis and on the ground floor. He talks about sleeping in his dispensary for the first year to keep it going and buying all of his inventory for his store on consignment, similar to the way that cannabis dealers in the streets have had to work on consignment.”