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Study Finds Denver’s Marijuana Businesses Need To Diversify

Racial disparity among marijuana business owners and employees are in need of change, policymakers say.

A 2017 Marijuana Business Daily poll reported that less than 10% of nationwide cannabis businesses were founded by Hispanic or African American owners. Sadly, a study commissioned by Denver policymakers found the cannabis industry still needs more diversity initiatives and inclusion in one of marijuana’s epicenters.

About 75% of licensed Denver marijuana business owners are white, the study finds, and 68% of employees are white as well. Though Hispanic or Latino populations make up about 30% of the population in Denver county, only 12% of marijuana business owners and employees are Hispanic or Latino.

Black and African American residents account for less than 6% of ownership and employee bases in Denver’s cannabis scene. According to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau statistics, around 10% of Denver county is black or African American.

“This study sadly confirmed what was widely suspected,” executive director of Denver’s Excise and Licensing division Ashley Kilroy said in a statement. “Just like what has been seen across the state and in other legalized markets across the U.S., Denver does not have a diverse marijuana industry.”

RELATED: The Role Marijuana Legalization Can Play In Fighting Racial Injustice

Denver commissioned the study before widespread protests against police brutality and systemic racism spurred a reckoning with various American industries. City policymakers hoped the study would highlight opportunities to address social justice and social equality initiatives, according to the Denver Post.

More than 80% of Denver Teens Don't Smoke Marijuana
Photo by Eric Donzella via Unsplash

Researchers gathered data used through an online survey that tapped a wide swath of cannabis industry stakeholders, including dispensary owners, budtenders, social justice advocates, growers, the general public, and more. Over 50% of those survey labeled ownership opportunities as “poor,” but employment opportunities as “good.” Money represented a barrier to entry in both cases, however; almost 77% of respondents said access to capital was the biggest hurdle to ownership while just over 70% cited low wages for entry-level jobs as a barrier to working within the industry.

RELATED: Dispensary Job Market Still Strong Despite Lockdowns

Data from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) shows racial disparities in marijuana arrests persist. Though Colorado has the lowest racial disparity in the nation, black residents are still 1.5 times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession than white people. Lack of opportunity in the legal industry could fuel those numbers, according to experts.

“The emerging legal marijuana industry is overwhelmingly white-owned and white-dominated, and provides good access to white customers,” Stanford psychologist Keith Humphreys told the Post. “So one possibility is that that leaves the illegal market disproportionately composed of people of color, both the buyers and the sellers.”


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