The legalization of cannabis has sparked a once-taboo form of entrepreneurship and has since seen a 76 percent increase in the demand for cannabis-related jobs. As the cannabis market continues to bloom, people of color — who make up the majority of drug law violation arrests — are locked out the money-making enterprise. With the state of California leading the charge of the legal marijuana movement, some Black entrepreneurs still find it hard to open cannabis stores.
The Los Angeles Social Equity Program (SEP) was designed to give those with low income, past cannabis-related offenses or arrests — or live in Disproportionately Impacted Areas — support in regards to owning and operating a licensed cannabis business. The program aims to empower those whose community was affected by the War On Drugs and break down obstacles that hinder entry into the cannabis business.
One such obstacle is the sought after L.A. Department of Cannabis Regulation business license. According to The Guardian, local residents say that business licenses that were said to have been for SEP qualifiers began to be awarded on a first come first serve basis, even to non-SEP applicants.
The Guardian reports that local activists are calling the SEP system corrupt with less than 20 of the 100 license-tracked businesses being Black-owned. However, the city blamed technical errors on its online application portal, but claims that it did not affect the licensing awarding processes.
Black entrepreneurs, Evelyn and Brandon Brinson, told The Guardian they have sold their car, insurance business, and downsized their home all in efforts to fund their cannabis shop only to have their application fall to number 200 on the application list.
“Why call it social equity and make people think that you’re helping the Black and Brown communities?” Evelyn told The Guardian. “It’s stressful seeing everything that you’ve worked for in your entire life being placed in something that you thought was going to be an opportunity to help you and it has literally hurt you.”
With California being the first state to legalize medical marijuana, it seems as though its cannabis entrepreneur scene is all but diverse. Of the 200 medical dispensaries located in L.A. only six are Black-owned.
According to The Guardian, all licensing processes are on hold, pending an audit issued by the mayor.