Medical cannabis has become a $600 million-a-year industry in Maryland since the first pre-rolled joint was sold legally in 2017, but black Baltimoreans are largely left behind.
Baltimore, which is 62% black, has 10 dispensaries. Some are owned by local owners. Others are owned by multi-state corporations. None are majority black-owned. And only one dispensary is located in a black neighborhood.
Now, Maryland is on the verge of legalizing cannabis for adult use, which means more dispensaries, more jobs, and more money.
Lawrence Brown wants to make sure places like West Baltimore don’t get left out – again.
Brown is an author and former professor at Morgan State University who wrote a book about redlining and economic segregation called “The Black Butterfly,” a term referring to Baltimore’s predominantly black east and west sides.
“It’s the same kind of apartheid that existed in so many other industries,” Brown said of the lack of dispensaries in black neighborhoods. “And it could have been avoided, because this is a new industry.”
Brown lives in West Baltimore and uses medical cannabis. Although one Hampden resident could walk to one of two nearby dispensaries and get joint pain balm, he said his neighbors had to drive or take the bus.
He spoke to the Baltimore Sun in the parking lot of NorthWest Plaza, a shopping mall on Northern Parkway in West Baltimore. Brown said he could imagine a store there that legally sells a medical product to neighbors with chronic pain or anxiety.
“We know from public health research that African Americans are disproportionately affected by all kinds of diseases and medical conditions. So nobody needs pain relief, nobody needs depression and anxiety relief more than African Americans,” Brown said. “The fact that it’s the medical cannabis industry and you don’t have [dispensaries] in the black neighborhoods of Baltimore City, it’s a travesty.
Councilman John Bullock, who represents parts of West and Southwest Baltimore, said it’s no surprise black neighborhoods in the city don’t have dispensaries — but that doesn’t fix it. not things. He said the council should work with the delegation of city state legislators to ensure that this pattern doesn’t happen again if Maryland legalizes recreational cannabis.
“It’s definitely a fairness issue and something that needs to be resolved,” Bullock said.
Brown became interested in opening a dispensary last year when he heard about a new diversity fund launched by Curio, one of the state’s largest cannabis companies. Curio had pledged to create a $30 million fund to help women, minorities and veterans with disabilities overcome the industry’s biggest hurdle: capital. Founders can retain the majority of the business, while the fund contributes up to 93% of start-up costs. (Curio said he is currently evaluating more than 500 applications across the country.)
Opening a dispensary can be lucrative — the median monthly income for a cannabis dispensary in Maryland was $450,000, or $5.4 million a year, state regulators said in a November report – but it’s also more expensive than other companies. There are special rules for safety and how to store and transport cannabis, and few banks want to lend money for what is still a federally illegal business.
Brown knew he couldn’t raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to open a dispensary, but seeing Curio’s initiative gave him hope he could raise just enough capital to participate. That’s when he looked at a map of dispensary locations and realized that much of Black Baltimore didn’t have any nearby.
Instead, nine of Baltimore’s 10 dispensaries are located in or on the outskirts of the city’s “White L,” a predominantly white strip of Baltimore that stretches from Upper Town to Charles Street in downtown, then east along the inner harbour. in Guangzhou.
“That’s where most of the resources are currently allocated in the city, so I wasn’t surprised to see the same pattern appear in cannabis dispensaries,” Brown said. “But it was disheartening because, again, as I say, this is a newer industry. There was a chance to get it right.
By comparing dispensary addresses publicly listed by regulators and U.S. Census data, Brown said he found that only 10 of Maryland’s 95 dispensaries are located in majority-black census tracts. Brown thought he might be the first dispensary owner in West Baltimore, but before he could start developing a business plan, he realized another problem.
There are no licenses available.
Maryland has a tightly controlled cannabis industry. There are approximately 100 dispensary licenses, divided by Senate districts throughout the state. There are no licenses available for Brown in Baltimore unless he purchases an existing cannabis dispensary, a proposition that would cost millions of dollars.
The state of Maryland was clearly trying to establish geographic diversity when it apportioned licensing by Senate district, Brown said, but racial makeup, opportunity and wealth can vary widely within a single district. Senate.
A truly equitable cannabis industry means “bringing businesses into communities that have been structurally demarcated, undervalued, marginalized, demonized,” Brown said.
“That was never achieved,” he said.
This year, Brown worked with Maryland Senator Jill P. Carter, who represents much of West Baltimore, to craft legislation that would allow licensees to open four dispensaries per license, making more likely that operators want to open in minority neighborhoods. .
“In so many of our minority and low-income communities, these dispensaries are simply non-existent under our current law,” Carter said during a March 3 legislative hearing. “And we’re just looking for ways to create greater opportunity for people who need it in those neighborhoods.”
Tia Hamilton, the owner of Urban Reads, a Baltimore bookstore specializing in books by black and incarcerated authors, traveled to Annapolis to testify for the bill.
Hamilton told the Baltimore Sun that she believes having dispensaries in black neighborhoods will reduce crime, add value to communities and create jobs. Instead of people leaving black neighborhoods to spend their money elsewhere, a dispensary could attract customers to black neighborhoods and create wealth there.
“It does us a favor when we’re able to bring those kinds of funds into the community,” Hamilton said. “It helps create other businesses. He gives [people] in these employment communities.
At the March 3 hearing, Brown tied the issue to the criminalization of drugs. Cannabis criminalization has disproportionately harmed black communities, Brown said, and legalization disproportionately benefits white communities. According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, black residents of Maryland were twice as likely as white residents of Maryland to be arrested for possession of cannabis in 2018.
Johannes Thrul is a professor at Johns Hopkins University, where he studies substance use. Black communities don’t necessarily use more cannabis than others, Thrul said, but across the country, black people are far more likely to be arrested for cannabis.
“The big problem here is that we have historically criminalized, especially black communities, and they have been disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of cannabis,” he said.
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To ensure black communities can participate in the cannabis industry, Thrul said governments must also recognize that there is a historical wealth gap and include funding.
“The other aspect to consider is that these programs need funding. In particular, it’s expensive to start a business,” Thrul said. “It’s not just about licensing, is it? This is to ensure that people can also take advantage of these licenses.
Brown said the bill was amended to address criticism he heard during the March 3 Senate hearing. It was feared that this would allow outside companies to significantly increase their market share. Brown said the latest version will ensure new dispensaries are opened in areas affected by redlining and the war on drugs.
The Brown-backed bill doesn’t seem likely to become law. The “Crossover Day” has already taken place in Annapolis, and lawmakers did not move the bill to the House of Delegates. But Brown said he would push the issue in the next legislative session – or consider some form of legal action.
Lawmakers seem more focused on legalizing cannabis for adult use. Brown fears that such an expansive cannabis industry could once again skip black neighborhoods unless lawmakers take targeted action. He doesn’t think the matter should be postponed any further.
“The longer this goes on, the more damage, harm and inequality will persist,” Brown said. “People can walk and chew gum at the same time. You can legalize and create recreational cannabis while working hard to bring geographic diversity to cannabis dispensaries. You can do both at the same time.