Black entrepreneurs in Missouri are shut out of the medical marijuana business

Michael B. Thomas/Special to The Star
·2 min read

Black entrepreneurs have been so left out of the booming medical marijuana business in Missouri that in the Kansas City area, not one dispensary is majority Black-owned.

Even Marne Madison, the former president of the Minorities For Medical Marijuana group in our state, has given up and relocated to Oklahoma City, where she plans to open a dispensary in April. That’s after investing about $80,000 trying unsuccessfully to secure a dispensary license in Missouri.

Madison can’t even say it was a learning experience, since she still doesn’t know the reasons the state rejected her application or approved others. And if the lesson for aspiring minority business people is “Move to Oklahoma,” that’s Missouri’s loss.

Oklahoma currently has no limit on the number of licenses the state can issue to medical marijuana businesses, while Missouri capped dispensary licenses at 192.

After being rejected on her home turf, “I drove five hours, spent $2,500 and was approved. It’s ridiculous to ask someone for six figures when it is not needed.”

Exorbitant application fees are clearly limiting minority participation in growing or selling medical marijuana. African Americans make up slightly less than 2% of dispensary owners in Missouri, far below the national average of just under 5%.

Missouri does not consider race and gender during the application process for the right to legally grow and sell pot for medical purposes. And only three of the 192 dispensaries in Missouri are owned by Black people, a group that has borne the brunt of America’s endless ‘war on drugs.’

Black people are still nearly four times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession — even though both groups consume the drug at similar rates, a 2020 analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union found.

For most large government contracts — everything from IT services to road construction — minority and women-owned participation is required. But those parameters were omitted when voters approved Missouri’s marijuana program, according to MoCannTrade, a Missouri medical marijuana advocacy group.

At least 15 states have provisions addressing diversity when awarding marijuana dispensary licenses, including bordering states Illinois and Arkansas, and we should, too.

Legal Missouri 2022’s campaign to place a recreational or adult-use initiative on the ballot is underway. About 170,000 valid signatures are needed from Missouri registered voters. The law would allow anyone 21 or older to buy marijuana for any reason. The initiative, which could be on the ballot in November, would automatically expunge criminal records of any applicant convicted of a non-violent marijuana offense.

It would also require a random lottery to select new license holders, which would be a lot fairer and less opaque than our current system.

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