When the Medical Cannabis Business Conference and Expo rolls into St. Louis’ Union Station Monday, March 11 and Tuesday, March 12, the speakers, vendors, exhibitors, and participants will probably be overwhelmingly white. That’s because the regulations governing the medical and recreational marijuana industries in states where they’re legal require two things many black people with experience in the cannabis trade don’t have: lots of start-up money and clean criminal records.
Consider: the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that black and white people use marijuana at similar rates, but a 2018 study by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that black people are three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. That’s only slightly better than the 2010 study from the American Civil Liberties Union, which discovered that African Americans are four times as likely to be arrested for possession as whites.
In many states, an arrest for even a tiny amount of weed, at least until recently, meant that you would have a felony arrest on your record. And that – along with taxes, fees, and non-refundable deposits demanded by state regulators – means that around one percent of marijuana dispensary owners are black, accounting for fewer than 40 of the over 3,000 retail cannabis dispensaries across the United States.
Take Missouri, where medical marijuana was approved by voters in November. In prior years, Missouri was notorious for having some of the nation’s most draconian marijuana laws. It was only in 2015 that Jeff Mizanskey was released by then-Gov. Jay Nixon after having served over 20 years on marijuana charges. He had been sentenced to life for charges that involved just weed. No violence, no heavier drugs, simply marijuana. Mizanskey is now 65 years old.
The new medical cannabis process in