A “Model Bill” for Marijuana’s Diversity Problem

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The Minority Cannabis Business Association released an adult-use model legislation, or Model Bill, on March 10th, 2017.

The Model Bill was drafted with the focus on helping communities that have been harmed or set back by the war on drugs and cannabis prohibition. The Model Bill looks to include people of color and women in the marijuana industry — where an estimated 1% of legal cannabis retail dispensaries are owned/operated by people of color — an industry that is forecast to hit the $44 billion mark by 2020.

What is a Model Bill and Who is the MCBA?

The 27-page document serves as a blueprint for elected officials, advocates, and entrepreneurs to implement policies in their respected states. In this case, the Model Bill details how compassionate cannabis legislation can support communities impacted by the war on drugs.

In the fall of 2016, MCBA, the first not for profit league created to increasing diversity within the cannabis industry, invited business owners, policy makers, experts, and activists to organized sessions in Washington D.C. to contribute their ideas and goals to the Model Bill. Using the best practices from California, Oregon, and Massachusetts, the Model Bill addresses two of the major questions regarding the involvement of minorities within the cannabis conversation: how to erase the discriminatory effects of cannabis-related prosecutions, convictions, and stigmatizations, and how to promote the participation of people of color and women in legal cannabis commerce moving forward.

Proposals include:

  • Expunging criminal records related to cannabis offenses in states where cannabis is legal
  • Creating a minority-owned business certification for the cannabis sector
  • Directing cannabis revenue toward communities most impacted by the war on drugs
  • Making it unlawful to discriminate against cannabis users regarding  housing, employment, credit loans, financial aid, child custody and adoption
  • The creation of offices, committees, and boards dedicated to cannabis regulation and diversity   
  • Strategy on how to fund programs and distribute revenue

Does Marijuana Have a Diversity Problem?

It’s no secret that as the marijuana industry continues to thrive, a growing concern is persons of color, women, and members of the LGBT community are being left behind. In March of 2016, Buzzfeed reported of the 3,200 to 3,600 marijuana dispensaries in the United States, less than 36 of them are owned by black people. That makes for a dismal 1% throughout the entire marijuana industry. Despite remaining illegal at the federal level, legal marijuana is becoming a major industry in the United States, accounting for an estimated $17.2 billion in retail sales for 2016. The inclusion of minorities only becomes more difficult for lawmakers as the business rapidly grows and lawmakers draft legislation with little to no focus on minorities.

“A lot of us had been in the room, or part of coalitions where model bills were drafted, or real legislation was drafted, but those issues were very small or addressed at the last minute. There was a lot of compromise,” says Shaleen Title, MCBA Policy Committee Co-Chair. “A few of us were talking about how it would be great if we had a model bill that was exclusively crafted to address the needs and values of people of color.”

When it comes to unemployment and criminal records within the marijuana industry, the need for reform is there. A 2015 New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that of all unemployed men ages 25-34 in the United States, roughly 34% of them were not working due to criminal records. During the War on Drugs era, the federal government aggressively prosecuted and convicted American men — especially black men — with nonviolent drug crimes, leaving them with cannabis-related criminal records. Now that cannabis is legal, those same criminal records keep those men from getting jobs within the industry.

What Happens to the Model Bill Now?

The Model Bill acts as a guide for policymakers and activist throughout the country. While it wasn’t drafted with the singular purpose of being put into the legislature in a specific state, it was meant to put forth ideas and strategies toward industry equality.

“We thought ‘what if we get together, all of us, and we don’t worry about what’s realistic, or compromising, we worry about what would really address our needs. What would be the best possible bill we could possibly get passed and implemented,” Title said. “We can share it with other people across the country who are doing the same kind of work.”
The two significant questions for the Model Bill moving forward are how will policymakers and the public react. Already, two policymakers in Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley and Hartford City Councilwoman Wildaliz Bermúdez have championed the bill in their respective states. Pressley, the first woman of color ever elected to the Council, believes “if we set an example by taking intentional steps towards equity in the cannabis industry locally, we set the tone nationally.” She worked with MCBA members in Boston and is working on filing the Model Bill with the Massachusetts legislature.

Bermúdez has a similar view, believing “how we legalize needs to be done in a way that ensures our communities of color and women are in ownership roles and not just employees.”

Killer Mike, Run the Jewels rapper and activist, has shown support through a Tweet to Title:

MCBA encourages collaboration from the public. They invite anyone to comment on the Model Bill and put forth their ideas through their form HERE.

Photo courtesy of Zastolskiy Victor

About Author

Nic Juarez is a Long Beach based writer interested in the intersection of feminism, race relations, drug policy, pop culture, and Kanye West. Aside from contributing to Marijuana.com, he works as a copywriter, screenwriter, playwright, and high school sketch show director (SNL for teenagers, he’s their Lorne Michaels). He’s a big fan of Joss Fong, Kathleen Hanna, Lydia Davis, Charlie Kaufman, and the reality television show, Survivor. If anyone could put Nic in contact with Joss Fong he would GREATLY appreciate it.

1 Comment

  1. Libertarian’s say that a free(er) cannabis market will do more for diversity and success than any kind of model bill looking to even out those odds via some kind of racist quota scheme put forward by an organization touting as much. Anyway the entire cannabis industry IS segregated by color – the color green as in money. Other than that and from what I can see, it doesn’t care what color your skin happens to be.

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