Opinion | Ohio’s medical marijuana diversity problem | Opinion

Ohio is moving forward with plans to more than double the number of medical marijuana dispensaries. That’s great news, as cannabis will become more obtainable for those who need it. But there is a catch: the number of dispensaries may be growing, but diversity in the industry stays low. That’s why many Black legislatures and business owners want the state Board of Pharmacy to hold off on expansion until there is a clear plan to diversify dispensary owners. I couldn’t agree more. 

Out of the 58 licensed dispensaries in Ohio, only nine – yes, just nine – are owned by Black, Native American, Hispanic, Latino or Asian people. 

“There’s some type of systemic and structural racism that has happened that we need to recognize, and we need to make corrections so we can be part of it,” Ariane Kirkpatrick, owner of Ohio’s first Black-owned dispensary, said at a news conference on the issue hosted by Ohio state Rep. Juanita Brent. “We need to make sure that diversity, equity and inclusion is in this industry.” 

Though there is a clear diversity problem in Ohio’s medical marijuana industry and people of color across the state are voicing their concerns, the pharmacy board is doing nothing about it. When they voted to expand, there was no talk of equity provisions – which is shocking, considering how white the marijuana business is.

The board did change to a lottery system, which, according to a spokesperson, will ensure “that small and minority-owned businesses can compete with larger multi-state operators, which are generally not operated by minority owners.” To be fair, that will help in a crowded field with a limited number of licenses. But it won’t be nearly enough. With a problem as deeply rooted and systemic as this, it needs to be thoroughly addressed. That means having long and difficult equity conversions that lead to action – not glossing over it and pitching a lottery system as the end-all, be-all. 

The pharmacy board says it’s still discussing how it can encourage equity, but we are at a point where we need more than just words – we need action. The board needs to study the issue and truly understand it. It needs to acknowledge the systemic racism in the marijuana industry. It needs to listen to people of color. That’s the only way true equity can be achieved. 

To be clear, this is not just an issue in Ohio – the cannabis industry as a whole struggles with diversity. A 2017 Marijuana Business Daily survey found that 81% of marijuana business owners were white. In addition, racial minorities are the ones who bear the brunt of the failed “War on Drugs.” Consider that Black and Latino people make up nearly half of all marijuana arrests, even though white people use cannabis at approximately the same rate. Marijuana may finally be legal in much of the country, but racism continues. 

The nationwide problem gives Ohio the chance to set an example for the rest of the United States. You cannot question the systemic barriers people of color face in the marijuana industry – it’s past time for Ohio to change that.

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