Fighting racial injustice in the cannabis industry starts with diversity

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Variety of marijuana strains at a dispensary. Photo credit: Cannabis Tours/Wikimedia Commons

Ongoing protests for racial justice have forced many to consider the role race plays in their lives.  Race can influence interactions with friends and neighbors, and where people shop and do business. The cannabis sector is no different. David Downs, California Bureau Chief for Leafly, says that cannabis has used to persecute non-white ethnicities as far back as the 18th century — and continuestoday. 

“The ‘70s really saw marijuana arrests ramp up dramatically. California... had 100,000 marijuana arrests per year. And they were a reflection of the law and order mentality under President Nixon,” Downs says. “He was waging this pugilistic political battle for control. And that included using drug policy to suppress the votes and rights of his opposition on the liberal left.”

The ACLU has found Black people are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana . But there aren’t many differences in marijuana use between racial groups, what is different is which neighborhoods are being policed, and who is being stopped. Downs says it’s up to the casual smoker to get involved and make a difference.

“You’ve got to register to vote and vote in every election,” he says. “In terms of the spirit of anti-racism, this heartburn over cannabis industry equity is really setting a precedent for bigger inclusionary policies.” 

One policy Downs mentions that could advance equity is   a California requirement for women to sit on the boards of large companies. “I think diverse cannabis shops are cool, but a diverse tech industry or a diverse finance industry, that's going to be revolutionary,” he says.  



Larry Perel


Cerise Castle