Colorado Regulator: “Denver Does Not Have a Diverse Marijuana Industry”

Diversity is lacking in a number of industries across the US, and ownership in the cannabis industry is no different. Not only is the industry overwhelmingly male, it is also very white. 

In recent years, conversations about are increasingly taking place at the start of statewide legalization efforts, such as in New York. But that wasn’t the case when states like Colorado and Washington were the first to legalize cannabis for adult use, back in 2012. At that time, the debate was still focused on whether to legalize. Now the debate is on how to do it, and equity has become a top consideration. 

Meanwhile the City and County of Denver, the epicenter of Colorado’s cannabis industry, is trying to course correct. As new licenses in that jurisdiction are under consideration for things like delivery and hospitality, equity is at the core of the conversation, as Cannabis Wire recently reported. And on Monday, as part of that effort, Denver released the findings of its very first “cannabis business and employment opportunity study.” 

The results are illuminating. The study highlights that 75 percent of local cannabis business owners are white. Those who identified as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish make up 13 percent, while those who identify as Black or African American make up just 6 percent. It’s worth noting that the online survey sample size was small, with just over 300 respondents. But the findings map against a recent statewide report that found even greater disparity in ownership. 

“This study sadly confirmed what was widely suspected,” Ashley Kilroy, the executive director of Denver’s Department of Excise and Licenses, said in a statement. “Just like what has been seen across the state and in other legalized markets across the US, Denver does not have a diverse marijuana industry.”

“We look forward to the work ahead with the industry, social equity activists, lawmakers, and other stakeholders to create a Denver social equity plan that offers more opportunities to increase diversity when Denver creates new marijuana licenses in the future.”

The study, of which the survey was one part, culminated in a report that noted several potential pathways to achieving greater equity. Lowered licensing fees and loans, for example, were among the considerations, along with “priority license application review and/or exclusive access to certain license types,” an approach taken in Massachusetts. There, as delivery licenses are rolled out, they are initially only available to those in its equity programs

As to whether Denver might take a similar path as stakeholders discuss delivery and hospitality licenses, Eric Escudero, director of communications for Excise and Licenses, told Cannabis Wire only that “Denver is looking at all options and nothing is off the table at this point.”

Colorado is also home to the annual Marijuana Management Symposium, a regulation and policy-focused conference that is the biggest gathering of cannabis regulators in the country. In a conversation with Cannabis Wire last October, Kilroy said that the issue in the spotlight at that gathering was equity.

“Almost every panel wound up discussing social equity,” Kilroy told Cannabis Wire at the time. “Even the international panel was talking about social equity.” 

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