As cannabis industry takes root, advocates seek equity for minority groups

For Roz McCarthy, founder and CEO of Minorities for Medical Marijuana, cannabis is not about getting patients high; it’s about getting them better. But it’s also about making sure that everyone has a fair shot at succeeding in Missouri’s emerging medical marijuana industry.

Minorities for Medical Marijuana, or M4MM, held an event at the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City on Saturday to address some of the most important logistical and regulatory hurdles minority entrepreneurs hoping to get in on Missouri’s medical marijuana industry will face.

The event featured John Payne, campaign manager for New Approach Missouri, a medical marijuana advocacy group, and state Rep. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City.

McCarthy outlined four goals that she and M4MM are working toward: public policy designed for inclusion and diversity; social justice for individuals who have been incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana charges; economic and business development; and health and wellness.

“We’ve had so many stigmas, so much negative connotations about this plant in our community, from a faith-based perspective, from a community-based perspective,” McCarthy said.

Missouri law requires the state to issue at least 192 licenses to sell medical marijuana. That comes out to a minimum of 24 licenses in each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.

However, some have expressed concern about minority groups being underrepresented in the distribution of those licenses.

Two years after marijuana shops first opened in Washington, African-Americans accounted for 2.7 percent of individuals with a stake in the state’s cannabis retailers despite making up 3.6 percent of the state’s adult population, the Seattle Times reported. Latinos made up 3.6 percent of marijuana store ownership in the state despite constituting 9.5 percent of the total population.

This disparity is precisely what M4MM hopes to address — especially since research suggests marijuana enforcement and sentencing have taken a disproportionate toll on communities of color.

Washington told the audience about a bill she co-sponsored that would require the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to give minority- and women-owned businesses a 10 percent bonus in its scoring of applications for medical marijuana licenses.

The bill has not been scheduled for a committee hearing and would likely face opposition from the legislature’s Republican supermajority, among other challenges.

Washington said the bill would require what is called a “disparity study” to demonstrate that women and minorities, as well as disabled Missourians, have been disadvantaged by not having full access to business opportunities in a particular area.

The goal is to give those groups a voice, she said.

“As the black caucus of the state of Missouri, what we are trying to do is work with the department of medical marijuana to … include women and minorities in that component so that those awards and those contracts can be more fair,” Washington said.

McCarthy lauded Missouri’s Amendment 2 for providing a viable framework for a robust medical marijuana industry that extends more licensing opportunities to prospective business owners compared with other states with much higher populations.

“You are in the most highly, highly regulated industry there is right now. There’s a lot of boom, there’s a lot opportunity, but high risk means … high reward, McCarthy said.

“It’s so highly regulated, there’s so many nooks and crannies that you have to do to make sure that you’re covering yourself as you perform in this industry,” she added.

Chris Dunlap, an entrepreneur who attended the event, said that his biggest takeaway was that there are so many aspects to getting into the industry that he previously hadn’t considered.

“There was a lot more moving parts than I thought there were,” Dunlap said. “Coming into it, I knew I was going to need a team, but they just got into a lot more detail that I just didn’t think about.”

Monica Perez, another hopeful licensee, said the event gave her a greater perspective on the importance of formulating a solid business plan.

“I got my degree in chemistry,” she said. “I don’t know anything about business. I have technical stuff down, but it’s the paperwork, you know.”

Joe Watson said he’s motivated to get into the CBD business after watching a friend of his suffer from opioid addiction following a medical procedure. Watson said he sees how medical marijuana and CBD are helping people.

“This is going to heal the community,” he said. “This is going to help heal the spirits of these people.”

Cory Holmes, owner of Holmes Organics, a health and wellness company focused on CBD products, said the event helped him determine exactly what he still needs to set up as he plans to expand into the medical marijuana field.

“I want take over the whole thing, to be honest,” Holmes said. “Let’s work, you know. I’m ready to work.”

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