Now that recreational marijuana use is legal for D.C. residents 21 and older, various business opportunities have emerged within the cannabis industry. Entrepreneurs hoping to benefit from the new legislation are working to create even opportunities.

Thousands of residents attended the second annual National Cannabis Festival on April 22 at the RFK festival grounds in D.C. (Courtesy photo)

Since the passing of Initiative 71, which legalized recreational use of cannabis, hydroponic stores, classes to grow the plant, paraphernalia shops, and medical marijuana dispensaries are popping up throughout the city. However, because Initiative 71 did not provide for a way to legally purchase marijuana for non-medical use the only way to buy marijuana in D.C. is with a medical card.

Forbes reported in January that legal marijuana sales in the US increased 30 percent last year to $6.7 billion. It is hard to pinpoint how much money is being made in D.C. from marijuana since its legalization. Nonetheless, cannabis industry insiders contend that the Black community has the ability to be part of this multi-billion dollar business.

According to the 2016 Census, there are 48.3 percent of Blacks living in Washington, D.C.—almost half of the city. Two of the top five medical marijuana dispensaries listed in D.C., Metropolitan Wellness Center and Capital City Care, are Black owned.

While that may seem like a lot, 40 percent of the market, it is actually not very much in a small industry with an even smaller demographic of Black owned shops.

At the recent National Cannabis Festival, representatives from both Capital City Care and Metropolitan Wellness Center, all of whom were of color, implied that Black people can and should be making more money in the cannabis industry.

Corey Barnette, an owner of Metropolitan Wellness Center and District Growers, which cultivates marijuana plants and makes cannabis infused edibles, contends that a good way for Blacks to enter the weed industry is through growing. “For years our community has suffered the brunt of a very vicious, attacking, and destructive drug war. Now you have an entire industry being built from the ground up and that ground starts with actually growing,” Barnette told the AFRO.

According to D.C. law, adults can grow up to six plants in private homes, but only three at a time can be mature. As growing is legal, Barnette said he thinks it’s the best way to enter in the cannabis business as it continues to flourish. “If we’re going to have an industry be born, we as a community have the opportunity to actually participate in the birth of an industry that we could be dominant in,” he said.

While Barnette is established and continuing to grow both literally and within the industry, other Blacks are starting to take note of the opportunities in the cannabis business.

In Southeast D.C., Good Hope Hydroponics is owned by two cousins of European descent, but has clientele that matches the community – predominantly Black. A majority of the store’s patrons are Black and male.

Dezo El, a Black man who started Buttermilk 420 Farms, a business that teaches people how to grow and offers cannabis infused items, told the AFRO he was visiting Good Hope Hydroponics even before officially moving to D.C. El said he relocated from Brooklyn to capitalize on the cannabis industry in D.C. and has learned the way to make money legally.

“. . . so many of us was arrested and thrown in jail for smoking a joint, having a joint, selling a joint or whatever, but the system here is different,” he said. “D.C. Initiative 71 is about more donations where they initialized the thought of everybody growing on their own, but they don’t want people selling to each other. So I can donate some weed to you, but literally there’s supposed to be no money transfer . . . So that’s what we do now.”

El and Barnette said they believe that even when one knows how to work the system the legalities surrounding weed can get tricky. “Well right now you have a city that has not set up a legal framework that allows the efficient sale of cannabis in a way that benefits both the city and the entrepreneurs,” Barnette said. “So right now a lot of what’s happening in D.C. is really happening in the Black market. That should not be the case. With all of the talent and with all of the capability that we have in our communities here in D.C., we should be able to open up store fronts. We should be able to supply existing store fronts, and we should be able to participate in a formal market the way that every other business does.”

Because of the caveats that lead to setbacks in growth within the cannabis industry, Sabria Still of Metropolitan Wellness Center said, the Black community first needs to be present when decisions are getting made. “We’re not there at the table when these laws are written. We’re not there with the city hall when people are asking whether or not they want medical marijuana in their county or city or state,” she told the AFRO.

Still, 24, argues that it is up to those who are already involved in the cannabis industry to educate and serve as a representative to the Black community to get involved. “I feel like it’s my duty, since I’ve been involved, to get others involved and kind of let them know the importance of cannabis,” she added.

For now, industry insiders are emphasizing the importance of educating the Black community on all the integral aspects of cannabis and the business surrounding it. “I think that a lot of people in the African-American community in D.C. haven’t been given access to the education and the information on how to become viable cannabis business owners or activists,” Caroline Phillips, founder and executive producer of the National Cannabis Festival, told the AFRO. The festival was held in D.C. on April 22.