Marijuana sales grew 30 percent last year, reaching $6.7 billion in North America, according to a cannabis research company. The D.C. Council is ensuring residents can financially benefit from the budding industry, particularly entrepreneurs of color.
Last month, At-Large Councilmember Robert C. White sponsored an emergency bill offering preferential treatment to Black businessmen seeking licenses to open medical marijuana dispensaries. Incarceration related to marijuana and the fiscal development of Blacks in D.C., are a major concern of White’s. The bill passed the council on June 27.
“I have two major concerns. One is the disproportionate number of African Americans that have been locked up for marijuana, despite using marijuana at rates equal to Whites. The second is how small a role African-American businesses play in general. Whether it’s in government contracting or development or banking, we just don’t play a significant enough role in lead businesses, because of historic racism in the country,” White told the AFRO.
Furthermore, White business owners from other parts of the country, the councilmember noted, would have had the ability to monopolize the marijuana industry, while African American entrepreneurs in D.C. were left out. White said he felt the bill was necessary while the industry is still in its infancy.
”It’s very important to allow people of color to participate on a foundational level in the marijuana industry because this is a multibillion dollar industry in this country that will continue to grow jurisdiction by jurisdiction,” he said. “Folks who are already capitalized, wealthy people and wealthy businesses, will be able to overwhelm the market from the ground floor and I didn’t want to see that happen in D.C., particularly because of how many people of color have gone to jail and prison for marijuana.”
Due to the bill’s quick turnaround, Black business owners can immediately get the benefits of the new preferential treatment. “The bill is already law because I got an emergency bill passed, that went into effect immediately, and the solicitation, is either about to go out or it’s just gone out, so as they’re processing applications for these licenses, this bill is in effect,” White said.
White’s bill took a bit of finessing in order to become a law, as there are caveats to giving preferences to minorities in D.C. “It’s sort of a technicality,” he said. “The bill, as I wrote it, has to give preference points for CBEs, or Certified Business Enterprises, which tend to be owned by minorities, but not exclusively in D.C. The reason for this is that the courts said years ago, when we had a minority contracting program, the courts said that we cannot distinguish by race explicitly, but I believe the courts are starting to move in a different direction, and I want to start to test those boundaries a bit.
“We will ensure enforcement through oversight, but it shouldn’t require a lot of oversight because what we did in my bill, was give preference points to local and minority-owned businesses that are applying for a limited number of two licenses. So, the agency [Department of Health] will give them preference points,” White said.
He said the bill could potentially revolutionize the industry. “My hope is that as the marijuana industry develops, there will be Black-owned businesses that are major players in this industry, unlike virtually any other industry in the United States,” White said.