Contributed Content by AskGrowers
Since the first adult-use cannabis dispensaries in the United States began opening in 2017, recreational marijuana has been an absolute boon to the American economy. Sales, tax revenue, investment, you name it – the numbers are off the charts.
Last year, even with the coronavirus pandemic keeping millions of people at home, the U.S. legal cannabis market posted $17.5 billion in sales, a 45 percent gain over 2019. Projections for 2021 have the industry eclipsing $20 million in sales.
Larger marijuana companies average more than $50 million in revenue per month. Curaleaf, America’s biggest cannabis corporation, reported a single quarter sales record of $260.3 million during the first three months of 2021.
How lucrative is the industry here? Some firms have traded hands for as much as $4 billion.
That’s what makes the practice of inequity in the business so strange. Thanks to a number of factors, especially political influence and plain greed, the ethnic groups most harmed by nearly a century of federal prohibition have had the smallest say in shaping the plant’s legal future. As Caucasian men dominate the industry, African Americans and Hispanic Americans have been left behind.
This is the story of how we got here, and how states are now listening closer to underrepresented voices to begin compensating for decades of disparity.
A Racially Motivated Ban
Not all Americans are enjoying the cannabis riches proportionally – and it’s not because of a lack of desire or work ethic, but a rather simple lack of access. African American and Hispanic Americans, who make up about a third of the country’s population, control less than 20 percent of the industry, according to Drug Policy Alliance – a New York-based non-profit advocacy group.
But cannabis is unlike other enterprises in that has put tens of millions of people in jail. Those people were – and continue to be – African American and Hispanic.
First, a quick history. When European settlers made their way to what’s now the United States, nobody on the Mayflower thought cannabis was something to get blazed on. But the plant’s industrial value was crucially important. The settlers used the durable hemp fibers to make rope, paper, clothing, and even sails.
Cannabis became so important to the American economy, the Virginia Assembly in the early 1600s even forced farmers to grow it. At one point, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland even made the plant legal tender – a legitimate currency for buying food and just about anything else.
By the 1800s, everybody knew of cannabis extract as a common medicinal compound. At least a half-dozen of the most popular 1850s-era medicines sold in U.S. pharmacies had extracts of the plant.
Unrest in Mexico brought tons of new immigrants to Texas and Louisiana in the early 1900s. And that’s when people’s opinion of the plant began to change. The Mexican immigrants brought with them their native customs, one of which was smoking “marihuana” to relax. Americans knew all about cannabis, but few had ever heard the Spanish word for it. They didn’t realize that marijuana was something they already had in their medicine cabinets.
The media soon began to capitalize on public fear of “disruptive Mexicans,” and using marijuana was lumped in with all of the group’s other racially stereotypical sins, like drinking alcohol in excess and stealing.
Massive job loss and unrest during the Great Depression made Americans resent the migrants and their “evil weed” even more, and dozens of states responded by banning cannabis altogether. The government’s way of controlling people by stereotyping their habits was incredibly effective, and it soon became a national strategy for marginalizing all minority …