The majority of the country has seen a poor representation of minority cannabis operation owners, and the gap is well documented.  

Black participation in the cannabis industry has been focused on two main issues — restorative justice programming and legalization. But Black business owners say underrepresentation in the space is more complicated. Much of the challenges hinge on the financial requirements to operate businesses tied to marijuana and succeed in pilot programs for hemp.   

The issue has finally caught the attention of Washington and U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Chairman David Scott (D-GA).  Scott is recommending that the 2023 farm bill address the barriers small businesses and Black entrepreneurs face when starting legal cannabis companies under state law.

According to the Executive Director of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, Amber Littlejohn, those barriers have included high startup costs, underfunded state social equity programs and a general lack of access to banking. She shared those comments to Scott and the other members of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions. 

“Here we are, the fastest growing agricultural product, between hemp and cannabis,” Scott said. “We’re also going into our farm bill. We’ve got to address this issue. We can no longer hide it.”

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The state of Connecticut is proactively trying to do something about it without waiting for Washington D.C. to legislate it. The Alliance for Cannabis Equity (ACE), a collaboration between Connecticut Community Outreach Revitalization Program (ConnCORP) and The WorkPlace, a Bridgeport-based incubator and workforce development board, has released the Cannabis Manifesto. The document is written to help Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs and workers understand how to take full advantage of the state’s recreational marijuana industry. 

The 93-page manifesto, which was published online, is designed to lay out the organization’s mission and goals and serve as a reference document for those seeking to understand why people of color should make full use of the opportunities for economic advancement provided by the state’s legalization of recreational use.

“Social equity is at the core,” said Fred McKinney, co-founder of the economic analysis and consulting firm BJM Solutions, in a late February press conference announcing the manifesto. McKinney praised the state’s efforts to center its marijuana policy on offsetting some of the harms of years of racism and bias in drug enforcement.

“But, I know enough about social equity to know that it takes more than words,” he added. “It really takes an effort to make it a reality. So, when I embarked on writing the Cannabis Manifesto, we wanted to suggest that this is something that we hope will have an impact that will shake things up.”

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