Michigan's marijuana industry leaves people of color behind
By Anna Liz Nichols
The first year of state-licensed recreational marijuana sales in Michigan saw $511 million of sales in recreational and $474 million in medical sales, generating over $100 million in tax revenue, but the state also found that the commercial marijuana industry drastically failed to attract minority business owners.
The Marijuana Regulatory Agency collected data in December that showed 79 percent of people interested in ownership of licensed marijuana facilities were white. Black people accounted for 3.8 percent while 1.5 percent were Hispanic or Latino.
In response, the agency's Racial Equity Advisory Workgroup, comprised largely of people of color who are experts in equity programming, made recommendations that would create partnerships with large businesses and local municipalities to equip communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana being illegal until 2018.
According to Council on Criminal Justice, Black people were about five times more likely than whites in 2016 to be in state prison on a drug offense, which was down from 15 times more likely in 2000.
The history of people of color being arrested and prosecuted for marijuana-related offenses makes them less likely to be given opportunities to participate in the industry, workgroup member and attorney Barton Morris said. Though there's work being done to reverse that damage, diversity in the industry hasn't taken off.
Michigan doesn't release demographic statistics of marijuana licensees so the exact number of minority owners is unknown. In order to address barriers for licensees or applicants of color, the workgroup is recommending a voluntary data collection survey to track and address challenges.
Christina Montague, who owns Huron View Provisioning dispensary in Ann Arbor, said she and other Black owners have had difficulty completing the licensing process.