A Deeper Look at Cannabis Entrepreneurs Trying to Go Legit

Article by Krishna Andavolu, Vice

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On tonight’s episode of Weediquette, host Krishna Andavolu takes a look at the structural roadblocks that underground cannabis growers and sellers face when trying to legitimize their business. Andavolu talked to us about what to expect in this episode; an edited and condensed version of his comments is below.

For this episode, “Going Legit,” we follow former underground weed growers and sellers as they try to make the transition into the legal market. The story emerged from my personal experience reporting on the weed industry these last few years, and a recent survey‘s shocking statistic—specifically, that less (or fewer) than 1 percent of all US dispensaries are owned by African Americans. There’s a gaping racial disparity in the weed industry happening right now, and at this key moment in the history of legalization, when people are planting their flags in what will become a multi-billion dollar industry, a lot of the original players are being cut out, which seems like an affront to the spirit of legalization.

What we found in following these growers and sellers who are people of color is that there are specific roadblocks to getting legal status: access to capital, and the exclusion of former felons from legitimate weed trade. Many states have statutes that bar people who have felonies from participating in legal weed economies. If you look at the legitimate weed market—who’s investing in it and wants to get into it—it doesn’t reflect the richness of cannabis culture, legal and otherwise. That’s a shame, and it’s something that should be identified and fought against.

We interviewed Desley Brooks, a councilwoman from Oakland who passed an affirmative action-like legislation through city council that would give dispensary licenses in areas that were over-prosecuted during the war on drugs. That effort is a corrective, but what’s intriguing about this moment in the cannabis industry is that it offers a clear view of institutional racism—of the long-term effects of people being over-prosecuted for drugs, and of the lack of access to institutional capital that many African American and minority communities face.

We spent time with this one grower, Kingston, who has been operating in Atlanta for decades. He has amazing weed, but he’s also a part of cannabis culture that isn’t necessarily thought of as legitimate primarily because it’s a black culture. That’s fucked up, and if you try to view legalization as a counter to the racism that took place in the war on drugs, then it’s failing in that sense. This episode is trying to point out that failure and highlight how people are fighting to correct it—how they’re banding together and using the resources at their disposal.

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