The cannabis industry still lacks diversity. Improving access is a joint effort


The marijuana industry is experiencing significant growth, with large cannabis companies reporting $1 billion in annual revenue and dispensaries operating in multiple states. However, there is a pressing need to address social and economic equity within the industry. Currently, the lack of diversity and access to resources disproportionately affects communities that have been impacted by the war on drugs.

Although 23 states and the District of Columbia have implemented regulations for adult recreational or medical use of cannabis, the industry still struggles with diversity. Data reveals that 81% of cannabis business owners are white, while only about 10% identify as Black or Hispanic/Latin American, and 25% are female. To bridge this gap, cities and states have launched equity programs, but participants often lack the necessary financial resources and business acumen to succeed.

One challenge is that venture capitalists may not view cannabis as an attractive investment due to different return expectations. Therefore, entrepreneurs and investors often rely on high-net-worth individuals, a few funds, or family offices for funding. Additionally, marijuana faces stigma and is classified as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act, limiting investment from corporations and institutional investors.

Despite these challenges, there are positive signs of change. The Biden administration has recommended loosening federal restrictions on marijuana, potentially leading to its rescheduling or eventual approval by the FDA. In the meantime, officials are implementing creative solutions to promote social and economic equity. For example, New York has reserved 100 retail licenses for individuals with marijuana convictions or their family members. The state also operates an accelerator program to support new entrepreneurs in the industry.

Overcoming stigma is crucial in advancing the cannabis industry. Former NBA player Al Harrington shares a personal story about his grandmother, who found relief from glaucoma symptoms through cannabis use. This narrative helped break down barriers and highlight the medicinal potential of marijuana.

While the marijuana industry continues to grow, it is vital to address the lack of diversity and provide support to marginalized communities. By implementing equity programs, providing resources and training, and challenging stigma, the industry can work towards achieving social and economic equity.  

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