In the 50 years since President Richard Nixon initiated the war on drugs, politicians of both major parties have endorsed aggressive police tactics and harsh punishments to combat substance abuse, and minority communities have disproportionately suffered. Black Americans are several times more likely than whites to be arrested for low-level marijuana offenses, despite comparable usage rates. Now with federal marijuana legalization a real possibility, and the drug war widely regarded as a failure, one of the central questions is how to compensate its victims.
New York and New Jersey’s new cannabis laws aim to create paths for entrepreneurs of color to join the industry. Within the cannabis world, this concept is known as “equity.” In theory, it promises an elegant symmetry: Massive demand for cannabis will pump money into the communities most damaged by drug-war tactics. In recent years, however, as marijuana legalization has made headway state by state, numerous jurisdictions have implemented similar plans with only token success. The people running and profiting from legal cannabis are overwhelmingly rich white guys, and without drastic changes, it’s likely to stay that way.