This 4/20, the country is one step closer to seeing the legalization of marijuana on a national level. A May 2021 study expects the legal marijuana industry will be worth nearly $71 billion by 2028. But as local leaders are beginning to recognize the impact of legal weed on their economies, it should come as no surprise that Black folks are being left out of the conversation. Several HBCUs are taking matters into their own hands and preparing their students to take advantage of this growing industry.
Earlier this month, the House passed legislation that decriminalizes weed. It will likely need a hope and a whole lot of prayers to get the support of conservative Republicans in the Senate who are relentless about blocking any legislation that stands to benefit people of color.
African Americans are currently nearly four times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana in the United States. But they have yet to profit from the money that can be made as states and municipalities make the business of marijuana legal.
A 2017 study found that white people represented 81 percent of marijuana business owners in the United States, 5.7 percent were Hispanic, 4.3 percent were Black and 2.4 percent were Asian. But HBCUs across the country are trying to arm more Black people with the education and skills they need to get into the game.
In 2020, Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA became the first HBCU to launch its own THC medical cannabis. Their AYO products were born out of a partnership with PA-based medical marijuana company, Ilera Holistic Healthcare. Clark Atlanta University launched a Certificate in Regulatory Affairs for Cannabis Control program in 2019. The online curriculum outlines the legal, social, and ethical impact of cannabis legalization. And program participants learn from experts in law enforcement, public health and government.
Florida A&M’s Medical Marijuana Education Research Initiative educates Florida’s minority communities on medical and recreational marijuana. They’ve also funded research around successful Black entrepreneurs in the medical marijuana industry. Meanwhile, Tuskegee, North Carolina A&T, and Delaware State have introduced hemp research programs that focus on learning more about ideal varieties and growing conditions for hemp plants in their states.
University presidents hope their initiatives will inspire others to get into the game and allow Blacks to gain a larger share of the cannabis industry. “This is an exciting time for healthcare and business here in the state of Louisiana, and Southern University is honored to be a part of it all,” Southern University System President Ray L. Belton said in a statement announcing their AYO product launch. “We look forward to advancing this vision and serving as a model for other universities.”