Black people in the United States use marijuana just as much as white people, but when you look at who is getting locked up for weed the numbers are anything but equal.
In the District of Columbia, for example, the ACLU found that in 2010 a black D.C. resident was eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white resident, although the rate of usage among the two races was about the same.
Now, local lawmakers have joined a nationwide effort to make sure minority-owned companies have a fair shot at making a profit off the growing legal marijuana industry.
Earlier this year, the District joined a growing list of states to take legal action to grant minorities and those hit by the war on drugs preference points toward their application to open a medical marijuana business.
"If our enforcement has been overaggressive in communities of color, then we have to ensure that as we begin commercializing marijuana, that people of color have an opportunity to play a role," Councilmember Robert C. White, Jr. (D-At Large), told Circa.
White is one of two councilmembers behind the District's new law that gives minority-owned businesses extra weight on their applications to own and operate a medical marijuana business.
"... there could be people returning from prison for selling marijuana and come back and find out that it's fully legal now. That's a tough pill to swallow."
The law is the city's latest push for diversity in the marijuana industry.
In February, the District lifted its ban on felons convicted of possession with the intent to distribute marijuana from entering the medical marijuana industry, citing racial disparities. "Just to think that there could be people returning from prison for selling marijuana and come back and find out that it's fully legal now. That's a tough pill to swallow," White said.
"There was no rule that created access for me."
Corey Barnette has owned and operated District Growers, a registered Medical Cannabis Cultivator in Washington, D.C., since 2012. He was one of two people of color to be awarded a license at the time.
In a predominantly white industry, Barnette says he carries with him a responsibility to pave a way for other minority business owners by being the very best.
"Being an African-American man that's operating in an industry where people who look like me have been locked up for quite a long time I also have a heartfelt responsibility to be extra competitive," Barnette told Circa.
Barnette's business came up long before the city implemented its new law. He says he was able to navigate the application process thanks to his past experience and professional network.
The District Growers website boasts a "talented and diverse staff," something Barnette says he takes pride in creating to reflect the city's diverse population.
"Not only is this industry going to happen, but we deserve a place in this industry."
'We have a lot more work to do."
The legal marijuana industry is expected to grow to $50 billion by 2026, according to Bloomberg.
But like most cities across the country, the District still has a long way to go before it can say its industry is truly diverse.
"We have a lot more work to do. My bill is just one small step," White said in response to whether or not his bill is a total solution to the racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests in the District.
"But my hope is that over the years, this step will get us closer and closer to a place of equity."
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