Probably not since the great Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1859, has Colorado enjoyed an economic boom sparked (pun intended) by the legalization of marijuana in January 2014.
According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, the state took in $996,184,788 in medical and recreational marijuana sales in 2015. In the first five months of 2016 alone, Colorado raked in $486 million, on track to surpass the $1 billion mark by the end of this month.
Weed revenues in Colorado have several states scrambling to lift prohibition and allow businesses to set up shop, while state governments collect millions in tax revenues and fees.
Yet, of the 25 states that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana, fewer than one percent of licensed dispensaries and retail stores are owned and operated by people of color.
As Maryland prepares to enter the pot business, issuing preliminary medical marijuana licenses, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (which oversees the process), seems determined to keep lucrative licenses out of Black and Brown hands.
Almost all of the preliminary licenses have gone to companies led by White men. Of the 15 issued in August, Green Thumb Industries (GTI), who has a Black man (former Ravens lineman Eugene Monroe) as part of the ownership team, was initially awarded a license only to have it taken away.
Cheryl Glenn, chairperson of the Legislative Black Caucus says Black legislators are determined to derail the process of implementation of a medical marijuana infrastructure in the state, unless people of color have an opportunity to be full participants in what could be a profitable industry for generations.
“We have to be a strong, organized, relevant organization,” Glenn said during an interview on AFRO First Edition on November 1. “I’ve seen this Black caucus more unified on this issue…We are 100 percent unified that the state of Maryland…we will not have this industry up and running in this state with no African American participation,” she added.
The political infighting on this issue has been ferocious and it could get even more intense as we head into the 2017 legislative session. At the center of the machinations is the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC).
“The commission has no oversight, the governor can’t even control the commission,” Glenn said. According to Glenn, the bill that legalized medical marijuana in 2014 (which she sponsored) included specific language on diversity. “It says the commission shall actively seek racial diversity, ethnic diversity and geographic diversity,” Glenn said.
So what happened? Glenn says, “one of the new Republican delegates,” wrote a letter to Attorney General Brian Frosh seeking guidance on racial diversity in the process of distribution of licenses. Glenn argues Frosh’s instruction that a disparity study had to be utilized was misinterpreted; no disparity study was in place, because marijuana was still illegal. Ultimately, the MMCC relied on a, “blind,” process (which seems ironic).
“We were able to fight back the most onerous regulations that the commission rolled out,” Glenn said, who adds the Black Caucus may introduce emergency legislation to strip the MMCC of its authority.
Among the controversial regulations were restrictions on who could receive medical marijuana treatment based on criminal backgrounds connected specifically to drug possession offenses. A measure that seems inherently unfair given the fact Blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately given significantly more jail time for possession of marijuana, despite marijuana usage being roughly equal between Blacks, Hispanics Whites.
That Maryland disproportionately enriches its coffers by fining and incarcerating Black and Brown people for marijuana possession, yet seems to be willfully shutting them out of the potentially multi-million dollar marijuana industry is beyond ironic.
“Nationally, there are about 60 licenses for medical marijuana. Guess how many are owned by African Americans? Zero, zero…we’re not doing that in the state of Maryland,” Glenn said.
“If we allow this to move forward in Maryland, we don’t need a Black caucus. In fact, I would be ashamed to even admit that I’m a Black legislator in the state of Maryland. This…new industry is like oil. This is a wealthy billion dollar business.”
Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of AFRO First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on WEAA 88.9.