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Missouri Cannabis Licensing Raises Equity Concerns for Black Communities

Missouri Cannabis Licensing Raises Equity Concerns for Black Communities

In the wake of Missouri’s legalization of recreational marijuana, concerns are being raised over the potential exclusion of Black communities from the economic opportunities presented by the cannabis industry. Historically, Black residents have faced disproportionate criminalization for marijuana offenses, and advocates argue that they should have a fair chance to participate in the burgeoning legal cannabis market.

Missouri is poised to generate over a billion dollars in revenue from recreational cannabis sales in its first year. With such significant economic potential, it is crucial to address the historical injustices and ensure that communities that have been most impacted by marijuana criminalization are not left behind.

Advocates pushed for the inclusion of a “microbusiness license” program in Amendment 3, the constitutional amendment that legalized recreational marijuana in Missouri. This program aims to provide opportunities for businesses in disadvantaged communities, particularly those predominantly composed of Black residents.

While Missouri has already licensed numerous dispensaries, infused-product manufacturers, and cultivating facilities, very few of these licenses have been awarded to Black-owned businesses. The upcoming opportunity to apply for 48 microbusiness licenses under Amendment 3 has raised concerns that Black Missourians may once again face barriers to entry and lose out on cannabis licensing opportunities.

The Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), the agency responsible for regulating the state’s cannabis program, released a list of ZIP codes that would be considered for high incarceration rates related to marijuana offenses. However, none of these ZIP codes are located in North St. Louis, where a significant portion of the state’s Black population resides.

Critics argue that the selection criteria for ZIP codes are flawed, as DHSS only considers incarceration rates from the past 20 years, while the impact of marijuana-related offenses on Black communities in St. Louis can be traced back much further. The exclusion of ZIP codes from predominantly Black neighborhoods has raised concerns about the fairness and inclusivity of the licensing process.

In response to the criticism, DHSS spokesperson Lisa Cox stated that the agency’s current data set, sourced from the Missouri Highway Patrol, is the most comprehensive available. However, community advocates and legal experts suggest that the state should consider alternative data sources that provide a more accurate reflection of the historical impact of marijuana criminalization on Black communities.

As the deadline for applications for microbusiness licenses approaches, there is a growing call for a more equitable and inclusive approach to cannabis licensing in Missouri. Community leaders and stakeholders are urging the state to take proactive measures to ensure that Black communities, which have borne the brunt of marijuana criminalization, have an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from the legal cannabis industry.

The conversation surrounding equity in cannabis licensing continues to evolve as Missouri navigates the implementation of its recreational marijuana laws.

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