Why diversity in marijuana business licensing might not happen as soon as hoped – Crain's Cleveland Business


As we recently reported, some Northeast Ohio lawmakers and marijuana industry stakeholders are calling on state regulators to ensure racial equity in the awarding of cannabis-related business licenses, particularly as applications open for 73 more dispensary licenses in the Buckeye State in the coming weeks.

But will this call-out have any immediate impacts in the near term?

It’s hard to say.

The need for diversity and racial equity on the business side of the marijuana industry can’t be understated when considering the racist history of America’s war on drugs, which is well-known to have had a disproportionate impact on people of color.

Herb Washington, owner of Ohio dispensary Leaf Relief — the first Black-owned dispensary in the state — said during last week’s press conference that matters of equity will only become more important as adult-use/recreational marijuana laws become the norm.

“When full adult-use comes, the disparity will be even more compounded because now the potential economic (impact) grows expeditiously, and if we don’t get in on the ground floor, it will be almost impossible once it’s running to participate in this,” he said.

These marijuana businesses, Washington emphasized, can be methods for generating wealth that can be passed on to other generations — something that must be done to help lift those belonging to economically disadvantaged groups out of poverty in the name of a more equitable society.

But when it comes to requiring that minorities get a piece of the marijuana industry as regulators run the program, the situation becomes unfortunately complicated.

This is because previous requirements to issue 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.

In its ruling, the court noted there was nothing of record properly establishing the

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