Pubdate: Wed, 03 Aug 2016
Source: Colorado Springs Independent (CO)
Column: CannaBiz
Copyright: 2016 Colorado Springs Independent
Author: Nat Stein


Where there's money, novelty and potential fame, people want in. For 
some, though, actually getting into Colorado's burgeoning cannabis 
industry is more difficult than for others.

Take the experience of Taneesha Melvin, a 28-year-old Colorado 
Springs native. This spring, she says, she left her job at Cheyenne 
Mountain Resort in search of new employment. As a medical marijuana 
patient herself, Melvin figured her knowledge of strains, experience 
volunteering at a local dab lounge and service background positioned 
her well to be a budtender at one of the city's 133 dispensaries. So 
she dropped $150 on a background check and other licensing fees and 
set out on the job hunt.

Melvin recalls following up on applications and having difficulty 
getting anyone's ear, though positions weren't yet filled. Each 
individual snuff was unremarkable, but after more than a dozen 
applications for active listings yielded a total of zero responses, 
let alone any offers, deeper rejection set in.

"I just felt something was off," Melvin said about her experience 
seeking employment in the marijuana industry. "And that's when I 
thought in my head, 'Hmmm, I don't see any other African-Americans in 
there, do I?' It's all white people."

She has no confirmation that she was skipped over because of her 
race. A dispensary in question didn't return Indy's request for 
comment. But Melvin suspects her race played an inhibiting role in the process.

"You'd think people would get over these attitudes; you'd think we 
could live right," Melvin said. "But I know I can't be the only 
person this happened to."

Statewide, 29,177 people are licensed to work in the marijuana 
industry, but the Department of Revenue doesn't track their 
demographic information.

So we can't know exactly who works in the industry, but we do know 
who can't. To get a job at any level, you need what's called a badge 
from the Marijuana Enforcement Division. To get that badge, first you 
need proof of Colorado residency (state-issued driver's license, pay 
stub, utility bill, credit card statement or anything with an 
address). Then you must meet requirements: over 21; no convictions of 
any drug-related felony; no felony in general in the past five years; 
not a licensed physician recommending medical marijuana; never had 
caregiver status revoked; not an employee of MED; not a family member 
of a MED employee; and not in law enforcement.

'You'd think people would get over these attitudes; you'd think we 
could live right.' click to tweet

Those standards were established at the outset of legalization when 
legitimacy was a top priority, but critics contend a clean record is 
unfairly exclusionary, considering African-Americans were 
disproportionately criminalized under prohibition.

There may be other barriers keeping minorities out of the industry. 
Larisa Bolivar, the Latina heading the Cannabis Consumers Coalition, 
is researching those hurdles for her master's thesis on marijuana 
policy reform at Regis University.

"There's fear - fear of persecution, alienation from conservative 
family members," she told the Indy about her findings. "But there's 
also lack of resources. You can't just get a loan to start a business 
in this industry. It's all private capital. And we just don't have 
that good-ol' boy network."

Bolivar says even without the hard-and-fast numbers that she's also 
been unable to obtain, inequality is apparent. "We can already see 
this playing out, with the wave of wealthy white people rolling in," 
she said, adding that wave will crest soon - both good and bad news 
for minorities. "Once marijuana becomes federally legal, it's going 
to be so cheap. There won't be millions to be made; [dispensaries] 
will be just like liquor stores. So for minorities who can't get in 
now, they've already missed the boat."

His sense that discrimination persists in the legal marijuana 
industry frustrates Melvin's boyfriend, Calvin Powell, who remembers 
getting thrown into the back of a paddywagon for having a joint in 
his pocket in New York City under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. "I've got a 
lot of friends locked up for less than an ounce of weed," he told the 
Indy. "It's ridiculous to be going Jim Crow in this industry in 2016 
when there are so many blacks still locked up for having a dime bag."
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