For decades, the "war on drugs" put black Americans in the center of its cross hairs. They are far more likely to be arrested for growing, smoking, or selling marijuana — outnumbering whites on possession charges nearly 4-to-1. Now, those eager to cash in on the budding legal cannabis industry are out of luck if they have any drug felonies on their rap sheet.
The legal pot market soared higher than ever in 2015. Sales increased 15% to $5.4 billion, toppling those of the e-cigarette business and the Girl Scouts combined. Helped along by continued legalization trends, the industry could reach between $21 billion and $44 billion by 2020. Still, it appears black people are being boxed out of so-called "green rush."
Only 1% of US marijuana dispensaries are owned by black Americans, according to a new investigative report by BuzzFeed's Amanda Chicago Lewis.
Chicago Lewis says that there are not yet any statistics on race and pot shop ownership, but she interviewed over 150 people involved in the industry and found that black people ran fewer than three dozen of the 3,200 to 3,600 dispensaries in the US.
Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance
The discrepancy shines through in industry-related events and press coverage, as well.
"You don't see many [black people] sitting on panels at cannabis conferences or weighing in on the latest marijuana court case in the 'Los Angeles Times,'" Chicago Lewis says.
The solution is unclear, and change won't happen overnight.
Organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance aim to foster entrepreneurship, while uniting founders with racial and economic justice advocates across the country. Art Way, a senior policy director for the group, writes in The Grio that "a good starting point would be staging a symposium on the opportunities the marijuana industry provides for African-Americans."
As the marijuana sales grow from a black market operation to a multibillion market, it's time the industry reflects the entire population it serves.