In honor of Black History Month and Women’s History Month, Honeysuckle organized a panel discussion on female minority entrepreneurs in the cannabis space. The panel featured Marie Montmarquet, Co-founder of MD Numbers Inc. and Angela White, Equity for Industry Program Manager.

The marijuana legalization and decriminalization movement has been gaining increased traction within the United States. Biden stands for federal marijuana reform, his presidential win is an encouraging sign for the future of cannabis legalization, although the extent to which he will deliver on his promises remains to be seen. 

Even today, as many states such as New Jersey deliberate over the specifics of implementing cannabis reform, Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs continues to target communities of color by criminalizing drugs like marijuana and giving harsh punishments for minor offenses. In an attempt to heal from the damage of mass incarceration and disenfranchisement, the legalization of marijuana offers an opportunity for justice.

If the government considers putting in place equitable initiatives to allow marginalized communities to enter the industry. The costs of buying property for a business, building, growing and the taxes create a barrier for people who want to get involved but don’t have the financial means. The government must consider expungement for previously individuals previously incarcerated on marijuana charges. They must also consider grants, education and training programs to teach disenfranchised communities how to build and grow their cannabis businesses. 

Honeysuckle’s Panel Discussion on Female Entrepreneurs and Social Equity in the Cannabis Space

During the panel discussion, Marie Montmarquet raised the question, “What is the police going to arrest Black people for now?” The prison system relies on the criminalization of cannabis to target and incarcerate communities of color. Marie’s question points to the financial loss that many prisons will suffer and the new vehicle authorities might use to target Black communities once cannabis is legalized. 

Additionally, Marie emphasized the need for legalization to be accompanied with social equity programs.  

“We need to stop arresting black and brown people for smoking weed. Before the federal government gets involved, and when the federal government gets involved, we must make sure they institute equity programs that actually give people opportunities who weren’t selling cannabis before, who have gone to jail before, and who have been affected by the War on Drugs to be involved in the cannabis industry…” said Montmarquet.

Not only is the justice system racist, entering the cannabis industry, particularly for people of color, is difficult. Many of the owners of cannabis businesses at the moment are rich white men. Their greater access to resources and business tactics leave no seats at the table for Black people.

Social Equity in the Cannabis Space

Angela White spoke to the need for equity in the cannabis industry in addition to proper fund distribution toward supporting businesses of color in the industry. 

“As soon as a property owner hears you’re going to start a cannabis business, the square footage amount triples. It’s a lot of unfairness. There are a lot of factors that have hurt us in traditional markets, within and beyond Nothing has changed. The reason they need equity programs and they need funding for these programs is because if you’re going to give someone a way into this industry, you have to make sure these things are financed. We already know we’re hurting,” said White.

Many of the economic disparities that affect Black communities of color have manifested into the cannabis industry, making it even harder for minority businesses to embark and flourish. 

The conversation about marijuana legalization doesn’t end at the ballot results. Legalization must ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in the industry and that the playing field is leveled through initiatives that accompany legalization.