Proposed cannabis program designed to help BIPOC applicants entering the industry

By: - October 13, 2021 5:05 am

Cannabis consumption lounges, like the one seen here in Vancouver, are expected to open in Nevada in the first half of 2022. (Photo by Paul Sableman, CC BY 2.0)

Nevada’s cannabis rush following the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana saw the rise of another multibillion dollar industry that is predominantly owned and managed by white men. 

To start rectifying some of the inequities, A’esha Goins, owner of Black Joy Consultants, is proposing a Pathway to Ownership program designed to connect those traditionally left out of the budding industry with mentorship and networking opportunities through an intensive curriculum covering cannabis science, and informational support in areas ranging from OSHA standards to taxes and marketing. 

The certification program will prioritize applicants who are Black, Indigenous, people of color or LGBTQ, as well as those disenfranchised by past cannabis laws, and help them gain entry into the industry.

“It’s an innovative certification incubator program created to ease the barrier to entry (in the industry),” Goins said. “One of the barriers to entry in any inequity is always education and financing. This will specifically address the education component.” 

Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, a long-time political champion of cannabis who supports the idea, invited Goins to the commission’s Oct. 5 meeting to explain the goals of the incubator.

“We approved spending about $4 million of marijuana money a year on social equity programs and recognizing people who have been adversely impacted by marijuana laws over our history,” Segerblom said. “This piece from A’esha is to address the part of trying to bring people of color and people who’ve been adversely affected by the marijuana laws into the industry so they can benefit too.” 

Black people have been disproportionately targeted and arrested by marijuana laws. 

The ACLU has repeatedly reported that there is consistent racial bias in marijuana convictions and warned that “despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.”

While Black people are overrepresented in arrests and sentencing from laws criminalizing marijuana use, now that consumption is legal in the state white men are now predominantly profiting from the legal marijuana industry. 

The Nevada Independent reported in February that 73% of license owners, managers and board members at marijuana companies were men and 65% identified as white. 

“There is not much diversity in the ownership side and that’s a problem,” said Commissioner William McCurdy. “You have many folks who actually locked people up that are now benefiting from what is now legal,” McCurdy said, referencing former law enforcement personnel who have interests in the local cannabis industry.  

Goins said when voters passed recreational marijuana use in 2016, the state “neglected to introduce social equity.”

McCurdy said the county should do “as much as we can do to provide opportunities for those who have been actually impacted.” 

“Since the very beginning in 2016, there should have been a component attached with the policy that was passed through the voters at large that included equity, especially for those individuals who have been disproportionately impacted by the failed war on drugs,” McCurdy said. “This is a vehicle to provide what we see as social equity.”

Legislation passed in 2021 authorized the creation of consumption lounges and requires 10 of the first 20 licenses be issued to “social equity applicants.” 

To ensure people of color are ready for the application process, Goins said she is partnering with Nevada Partners, Culinary Local 226’s job training and development non-profit, to fast track the first cohort of the Pathway to Ownership program, which is scheduled to start Oct. 19. 

“The first cohort will have to be fast tracked because the intent is to get them ready for the application process for consumption lounges where the social equity applicant has been designated,” Goins said. “This is a program that has to move forward otherwise there won’t be applicants available for the application process.”

Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick said Oct. 19 would be too quick for the commission to vote on a contract or potentially allocate money for the first cohort. She didn’t rule it out for the future. 

After the first cohort, which will only be scheduled to last 16 weeks, a regular cohort would run six months and offer classes once a week for 40 applicants.

Goins estimated the program would cost $600,000 per year to pay for facilitators, space for classes, and administrative fees. 

The intent is to keep the program free for participants. 

“What we want to make sure that we’re doing for these equity applicants is offering them an opportunity for sustainability,” Goins said. “That’s a place I identified as an area other states, counties and jurisdictions had neglected. This program will certify individuals based on them completing the program, which is 96 hours. The goals are to diversify the Nevada cannabis industry, minimize the illicit market place, aid in overall public education and create sustainable cannabis business applicants.

The county is expected to bring the item back for action later this year. 

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.