Throughout his decades of selling weed, Ramón García never thought he’d see the day marijuana became legal in California. During the war on drugs, police harassed Ramón, profiling him for the color of his skin, stopping him multiple times a week. But even though he now owns a legitimate cannabis distribution business in his hometown of Oakland, he’s ambivalent about the legalization of pot. Because it seems like so far legalization has only made white entrepreneurs rich, while it was black and Latino weed dealers who bore the brunt of the war on drugs.
Even though there isn’t much hard data to prove Ramón’s theory, anecdotally many policymakers and weed industry experts agree. A Washington Post article found that most of the successful new weed businesses to emerge from Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana were owned by white entrepreneurs. Since California legalized weed in 2018, a handful of marijuana businesses have sold for tens of millions of dollars. They’ve all been owned by white entrepreneurs.
Luckily for Ramón, Oakland is trying to even out the playing field for weed entrepreneurs of color. The city has created a program to encourage black and Latino people victimized by the war on drugs to start weed businesses, giving them tax breaks, business mentorships, and even rent-free space. On this episode, Latino USA spends time with Ramón and Claudia Mercado, two weed entrepreneurs competing against much better-funded businesses owned by white people, and we try to figure out whether a city-backed program can help make up for decades of racist drug policies.
Featured image by Jesse Alejandro Cottrell.