Ohio lawmakers, stakeholders call on state regulators for racial equity in marijuana business licensing – Crain's Cleveland Business


Some Democratic lawmakers and marijuana industry officials are calling on state regulators to build more diversity, equity and inclusion into the licensing process for the state’s legal marijuana companies.

Time will tell how this pans out. As necessary as it is to get people from historically marginalized groups to participate equally in the state’s marijuana industry — which could soon go full recreational — previous requirements to provide marijuana business licenses to minorities were deemed unconstitutional by a Madison County court in 2019. This essentially struck down a tool that would’ve seemingly helped achieve diverse representation in the industry.

State Reps. Juanita O. Brent (D-Cleveland) and Thomas West (D-Canton), president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC), discussed this at a Thursday, Sept. 2, press conference. They were joined by industry stakeholders, including: Nikcole Ross, owner of Noohra Labs, a marijuana processor; Ally Reaves, founder of Midwest CannaWomen; and Herb Washington, owner of the Leaf Relief marijuana dispensary.

The conference comes as the Ohio Board of Pharmacy prepares to issue its second request for applications (RFA) for dispensary licenses, which stands to expand the number of medical marijuana retailers in the state by 73. That would grow the number of marijuana retailers from fewer than 60 today to 131.

Brent noted that there are just nine dispensaries in the state that are minority-owned. There was a 10th at one time, but that individual sold their license.

The application window for the next round of dispensary licenses could open shortly after the Board of Pharmacy’s next meeting on Sept. 14. That’s when the board is set to approve guidelines for RFA II, which is currently expected to feature a lottery process for awarding licenses to qualified applicants.

The state previously relied on a ranked scoring system for awarding licenses, and it faced several lawsuits

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