Like many other commercial enterprises, the cannabis industry is largely the terrain of white males. To address social equity in business issues, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is holding a conference on Dec. 11 and 12, 2018 in Albany, New York.

Black ownership of cannabis dispensaries and businesses makes up only 4.3 percent of the entire industry, according to a Marijuana Business Daily survey published in September 2017.

Further, African-Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, according to a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), despite cannabis consumption being roughly the same among blacks and whites.

“We need a conference focused on the economics of legalization because the economic boon produced by the creation of a legal marijuana market has not necessarily translated into opportunities for members of the communities that have been most impacted by prohibition,” Melissa Moore, DPA Deputy State Director for New York, told Marijuana.com. That also includes, she said, “New Yorkers of color who lost their homes, were separated from their children, denied citizenship and freedom.”

Then there are women.

While things looked somewhat rosy several years ago when women held 36 percent of the executive positions in cannabis companies, those figures sagged in 2017 to 27 percent, somewhat above the national average of 23 percent for women in all United States businesses in 2016, according to the latest Marijuana Business Daily survey.

What if you're black and a woman? That's Wanda James.

As CEO of Colorado-based Simply Pure, James is the first black woman to open a dispensary in the U.S.  She and her chef husband, Scott Durrah — both military veterans, Navy and Marines, respectively — opened Simply Pure in 2010, which became one of the nation's first successful edibles companies.  

“You can't imagine how many meetings I've sat in, still sit in, when I am the only black person and the only woman in the room,” James told Weedmaps News.

“We face a triple layer of challenges, and then some. It's rewarding when it works out but we've always got to keep our foot on the pedal,” she said.

James said she believes the DPA conference, Marijuana: Justice, Equity, and Reinvestment, will be a good opportunity to take a closer look at a national problem as momentum for cannabis reform grows, especially after the 2018 elections brought legalization and reform to more states.

In addition to speaking on the Gender Justice and Equity panel, James and Cannaclusive co-founder Mary Pryor will discuss race, gender, and legalization in New York at a community event, also open to the public, at The Linda WAMC Performing Arts Studio, located 1 1/2 miles from the DPA conference.  

James applauds New York and the intentions of the DPA conference to examine injustices and racial disparities even before adult-use cannabis has been approved there. She believes that wiping out marijuana-related criminal records must be part of any and all states' cannabis programs.

“It's all about expungement. We need to right the wrongs of racial disparity before we can really move forward,” said James.

“Regulations in most states bar people with drug-related convictions from getting into the legal industry while white mostly men are massively profiting from a subculture that was nourished by African-Americans, many of whom are being shut out.”

The conference, which will bring together hundreds of leading experts from around the country, is offering sessions on finance and banking, achieving social and financial equity, diversified economic opportunities, public health, community reinvestment, economic opportunities for Upstate New York, restorative justice and reparations, sustainable production, and corporate social responsibility in the industry, among other topics.

The conference is free to the public, but registration is required.

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