Congresswoman On Mission To Increase Diversity In Marijuana Industry

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Congresswoman On Mission To Increase Diversity In Marijuana Industry

By Bryan Le 06/18/18
Congresswoman Barbara Lee has introduced first-of-its-kind legislation to directly address diversity in the marijuana industry.
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Medical marijuana jars against board with THC formula - cannabis dispensary background
Congresswoman Barbara Lee wants to restore equality to the marijuana industry.

California Rep. Barbara Lee wants to add some diversity to the overwhelmingly white marijuana industry, a fact that was apparent after a Maryland dispensary named a strain “Strange Fruit.”

The name is a reference to a Billie Holiday song in which “strange fruit” referred to the bodies of black Americans who had been lynched and left to hang on the branches of trees.

The controversy came to light after a black woman visiting the dispensary was appalled that someone thought “Strange Fruit” was an appropriate name for a pot strain and called Shanita Penny, the president of the board of directors of the Minority Cannabis Business Association.

“Do you think if a black person were in charge of marketing or at the table that 'Strange Fruit' would've gotten on the shelves?” asked Penny.

America’s pot industry is, indeed, largely white. A BuzzFeed analysis of storefront marijuana businesses across the country revealed that less than 1% of dispensaries are owned by black Americans. A different report found that only 19% of marijuana businesses have minority investors.

Lee told Rolling Stone that she is introducing the RESPECT Resolution, first-of-its-kind legislation to directly address diversity in the marijuana industry. It will likely not become a bill, but instead remain a resolution because the federal government will probably allow state and local governments to decide and enforce their own policies surrounding marijuana.

With RESPECT, Lee hopes to have states expunge the records of all those incarcerated for non-violent marijuana-related offenses. These people would also be allowed to participate in the new marijuana industry, a distinction that is important for states like Illinois where you can’t get a medical marijuana card if you have a felony—even if that felony was for having medical marijuana.

Lee also wants to do away with fees to get marijuana licenses, which can be as high as $10,000 in the state of New York.

Increasing support for the legalization of marijuana is bringing America’s decades-long war on pot to a close, but Lee believes there’s a long way to go to heal the damage caused by the racial disparity in the enforcement of such laws.

“[Marijuana] has really been a driving force for mass incarceration,” Lee explained. "So we're looking at ways to begin to unravel this and bring some justice to these people who deserve justice. They've been unfairly incarcerated."

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