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Lowkey Social Justice And The Cannabis Industry

In what seems like the blink of an eye, cannabis has gone from a prohibited substance to a profitable product. Recreational cannabis is currently legal in 19 states along with Washington, D.C., and the future is bright for cannabis—the state-legal cannabis industry is now estimated to be worth over $18 billion and supports more than 300,000 full-time jobs. The future is also white. A 2017 survey found that 81% of cannabis business owners and founders were white, while 4.3% were Black, a particularly disparate proportion considering that people of color have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.  

For the cannabis industry to become socially equitable, it’s vital that Black-owned businesses like Lowkey Dispensary succeed and help increase the inclusion of minorities in this rapidly expanding industry. Last year, the cannabis industry added 77,300 jobs, a 32% increase in year-over-year growth, a faster job growth rate than any other industry in the U.S.

What is Social Equity?

Social equity can mean different things to different people. In the cannabis industry, it’s generally focused on the meaningful participation of those who’ve been unfairly impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Black Americans are arrested for cannabis offenses at almost four-to-one compared to whites—a rate that has gone almost unchained for a decade

Even in places like Massachusetts—home to Lowkey Dispensary—Black people were four times as likely as white people to get arrested for marijuana possession between 2010 and 2018, despite the state decriminalizing marijuana in 2008 and legalizing it in 2016. Black-owned dispensaries like Lowkey are crucial to overcoming the damage done to the Black community by discriminatory law enforcement.

Social equity is one of the reasons why we’re set to open our first location in Codman Square, Dorchester, a neighborhood where 40% of the residents are Black. It’s also why we’re committed to hiring candidates from within the neighborhood and training them for long-lasting careers in the cannabis industry, a market that is expected to top $90 billion by 2028

The War on Drugs and People of Color

The 1930s

The war on drugs has historically coincided with a war on people of color. The first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger, was appointed in the 1930s. Anslinger left behind a legacy of racist rhetoric and is known for helping to popularize the word “marijuana,” something he used to tie cannabis to Mexican immigrants.

The 1970s

In the 1970s, the Nixon administration established the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The intention of the agency was to target illegal drug use and smuggling in the U.S., but history has shown an ulterior motive—in a 1994 interview, President Nixon’s domestic policy chief explained that the Nixon campaign had two enemies: “the antiwar left and Black people.” 

He went on to say: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”

The loser of the war on drugs that began in the 1970s is the American people and especially people of color. The incarceration rate of Black people in the U.S. shot up from about 600 per 100,000 people in 1970 to 1,808 in 2000.

The Present Day 

Today, despite minorities and white people using and selling drugs at similar rates, the percentage of incarcerated people is completely out of whack. Almost 80%< of people serving time for a federal drug offense are Black or Latino and people of color make up 60% of those serving time for drug charges in state prisons.  

Black Ownership of Cannabis Businesses

Black people and their communities have paid a heavy price in the 50 years following the war on drugs—and as more and more states move to legalize cannabis, it’s imperative that those most hurt by cannabis prohibition reap some of the rewards of its legalization. Unfortunately, so far this isn’t the case.

A 2021 report found that only 2% of America’s estimated 30,000 cannabis companies are Black-owned, but Black Americans hold business equity in only 1 in 50 cannabis companies.  A large amount of funding is often required to start a cannabis business, yet because cannabis remains illegal federally, finding financing is extremely challenging—meaning cannabis owners need access to considerable capital, something challenging to locate in communities where the war on drugs limited employment opportunities, and something not easily accomplished for those coming from communities that have been subjected to practices like Jim Crow, redlining, and bank loan denials.

It’s just not equity where Black people are underrepresented in the cannabis industry. In Massachusetts, 73.5% of staff at cannabis companies identify as white. Black cannabis business ownership and Black-owned dispensaries are key to introducing more people of color to the cannabis industry. 

Building Back Better Black Communities

Black ownership is vital to creating an equitable industry and building wealth into communities ravaged by the war on drugs. Dispensaries like Lowkey not only build equity in the cannabis industry, but also open doors and create careers for Black people in an industry that’s predominantly white. Our Dorchester location will also drive traffic, revitalize business, and spur economic activity in a largely Black community. 

Lowkey Dispensary

Lowkey is on track to open our Dorchester location early this winter and is already working on securing a second location in West Roxbury. We hope to see you in the shop when we open and want our customers to know that by shopping Lowkey, they’re not just purchasing a product but supporting the Black community and contributing to social equity in one of the fastest-growing industries in the nation.

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