Legalizing cannabis in Minnesota: a step toward racial and economic justice

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As lawmakers debate proposed legislation to legalize cannabis in Minnesota, it is critical that they consider the racial and economic justice implications of this new industry on communities of color. Diverse communities must be heard as industry regulations are put into law.

In discussions on how cannabis should legally be grown, sold, taxed and regulated, people of color must have a voice at the table. And to ensure everyone has a fair shot at taking part and finding success in this new industry, expunging or reducing cannabis-related convictions must be part of the conversation.

The stakes are high in determining who takes part in the industry when cannabis is legalized in Minnesota. In 2017 in the U.S., the legal industry took in around $7 billion. As more states come online by 2020, the legal industry is projected to take in $20 billion. Yet racial disparities exist.

According to The Hood Incubator, an Oakland-based nonprofit aimed at helping people enter the legal cannabis industry, nationwide black people make up less than 5 percent of founders and business owners and receive only 1 percent of the venture funding. According to Wanda James, the first black owner of a Colorado marijuana dispensary, of the hundreds of businesses that have popped up in her state since the state legalized the sale of cannabis, less than 10 are black owned.

Having access to funding and the cost required to enter the legal recreational cannabis market has been prohibitive to communities of color. People of color have built expertise in this arena and should not be shut out of high-wage, career advancing jobs. They should have opportunities to take on leadership roles to build a safe and productive industry.

I encourage Minnesota lawmakers engaged in the debate on legalizing recreational cannabis to form a task force focused on: the ability of people of color to access capital to begin their own businesses; ordinances for local units of government to set aside a number of recreational cannabis licenses to applicants of color and women; and initiatives that provide authentic opportunities in this economy of the future.

Communities of color must be poised for success when recreational cannabis becomes legal here. Anything less will perpetuate Minnesota’s national record of having one of the widest income gaps between people of color and whites. This is not acceptable. The opportunity for economic inclusion is here and to move Minnesota forward for everyone, we cannot pass it up.

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