Puff, Puff, Pass Better Legislation: The Cannabis Industry is on the Ballot this November
The United States medical cannabis industry is expected to be valued at $40 billion by 2030 and to grow annually at a compound rate of over 25 percent. That is a ton of money in the exchange that is up for grabs for pretty much anyone. Or is it?
According to business reports on the cannabis industry, Black-owned operations account for just 2 percent of the total cannabis businesses in the U.S., with their white counterparts dominating over 75 percent of the business. Those numbers are simply incomparable!
In 2019, the Georgia state legislature passed a bill to allow for the dispensing of low-THC cannabis oil for medical use. The bill gave the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission the ability to grant six licenses to medical cannabis producing companies. To start, that’s not a lot of licenses. The Committee does require that 20 percent of the six licenses (so, one license) be given to “minority, women, and veteran owned business.” But the application to get one of the licenses costs up to $25,000. Then, if you’re selected for a license, you have to pay up to $200,000 just to receive the license and then an annual fee of up to $100,000 to keep it. To put it simply, you need to have $325,000 in cold hard cash to participate in this industry. You can’t use a credit card, or get a bank loan, or anything of the like. You need to have those dollar bills, a rich uncle or auntie, or a willing venture capitalist to sponsor you to get your foot in the game.
That’s a wild amount of money for anyone, but especially for Black men. In 2021, the median annual earnings of Black men in the U.S. was $50,187. That’s a fraction of what it would take to get, let alone keep, a license to participate in Georgia’s medical cannabis oil industry. To put it simply: it’s virtually impossible for Black men to have enough money to be able to break into the sector. Not only is the licensing process complicated, competitive, and expensive—it's also punitive. To get a license, the Commission says it will review the record for, “all owners, officers, and employees of the applicant to ensure there are no drug-related convictions, except for felony convictions that are greater than ten years old, are not drug related, or have been expunged or pardoned.” Even though marijuana possession and usage rates are similar across races, Black people are three times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people in Georgia. Having this record hanging around is just one more barrier keeping Black men out of Georgia’s medical cannabis oil industry.
In a bit of recent good news, President Biden signed an executive order pardoning “all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana,” and urged “all Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses.” Unfortunately, in Georgia, the Governor does not have pardoning power, so that Presidential request is not going to go very far in the Peach State. President Biden’s Executive Order also directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to review how marijuana is scheduled (classified) under federal law. This review could move marijuana out of its current classification as a Schedule 1 drug and, possibly, loosen restrictions on access and distribution, particularly for medical use.
So, how does all of this tie back to voting? Well, first, we can thank Georgians for electing a President who is willing to do this for the people. Second, President Biden has set an example at the federal level, but y’all, it’s our state and local elected leaders who really have control over what happens with cannabis in Georgia. The people who select the members of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, who introduce legislation to regulate and allow for the production and distribution of medical cannabis, and who set expectations for how certain cannabis-related crimes get policed and prosecuted in Georgia are ALL elected officials. This includes state representatives and state senators, the Secretary of State, the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, and the Governor. And those offices are all on the ballot this November.
We the people have the power to elect leaders who want more equity and fewer restrictions in Georgia’s medical cannabis industry. Leaders who support Black-owned businesses in Georgia, specifically business owned by Black men, who have been the primary target of the war on drugs for decades. Leaders who want to see our communities thrive. If Georgia is making medical cannabis entrepreneurship opportunities available, Black men should be the FIRST to have access to that opportunity.
On November 8th, Georgians go to the polls to vote in races up and down the ballot. Your vote has the power to influence the future of medical cannabis and even, long term, the decriminalization and full legalization of marijuana in Georgia. So, mark your calendar (early voting is Oct 17- Nov 4 and Election Day is Nov 8), make a plan to vote, and get to the polls because cannabis is on the ballot this year. And because we cast those ballots, hopefully we will see more Black-owned medical cannabis businesses in Georgia.