Survey address the Black community’s criticisms of the state’s medical marijuana program.
A key criticism the Black community has made concerning medical marijuana in Missouri was that it had been left out of the cannabis industry… but the state has yet to conduct a survey to find out.
For the first time, a state official has publicly vowed to push for a demographics survey of cannabis business owners in Missouri..
At a June 22 outreach event in St. Louis, Abigail Vivas, Chief Equity Officer with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. She said she would advocate for a survey where cannabis license holders could volunteer their demographic information.
This addresses a key criticism of the state’s medical marijuana program; that theAfrican American community was being left out of the burgeoning billion-dollar industry.
“Considering the spirit of the [Missouri] constitution…I think that data is important,” said Vivas, who was recently hired to fill the newly-created chief equity officer position in February.
Vivas led four events throughout Missouri last month, educating people about the state’s Microbusiness Cannabis Program.
Proponents of Missouri’s marijuana legalization amendment revealed that last year’s campaign was aimed at giving access to communities who have been most impacted by the criminalization of cannabis products.
Autumn of 2023 finds Missouri offering 48 microbusiness licenses surrounding these products; the window to file applications for said licenses is from July 27 to August 10. The application can be found on the Department of Health and Senior Services’ website.
The need for the program, created as part of a policy response on behalf of the state, addresses the lack of Black-owned cannabis businesses in Missouri, and relatively few women-owned businesses as well.
“There is some under representation, no doubt,” said John Payne, a consultant who helped write the constitutional amendment voters approved in November legalizing recreational marijuana. “And the microbusinesses are aimed at creating some more equity for people that are underrepresented.”
In order that these businesses be competitive and successful in relation to other established entities, the number of new regular licenses in Missouri will, by law, stay frozen until June 8, 2024. Until that time, the only new licenses DHSS can issue will be microbusiness licenses. Both state and industry leaders will be compelled to support these new businesses over the course of the coming year, Payne said.
St. Louis-based BeLeaf Medical is one of several companies sponsoring accelerator programs for cannabis microbusiness applicants.
“What do they get out of it?” said Todd Scattini, founder of Harvest 360, a consulting group brought in by BeLeaf to lead their education initiative. “People understand like, ‘Okay, they get it.’ They’re trying to help this community that has been destroyed by the War on Drugs by giving them information and access to networks and technology.”
Payne’s consulting firm, Amendment 2 Consultants, has partnered with Kansas-City-based cannabis company Show-Me Organics to provide assistance to prospective microbusiness applicants. Larger businesses could benefit from certain branding opportunities, Payne said, and collaborations that are allowed under the law.
Payne added that the law recognizes that African Americans in Missouri are 2.6 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their Caucasian counterparts. “So that should carry over into a disproportionate good impact of the microbusiness licenses,” he said. “But what we don’t know and don’t control is who ends up actually applying. And we won’t know that until they’re [the licenses] are awarded.”
DHSS’ Abigail Vivas said she will write an annual report which will include how many people applied and won microbusiness licenses in each of the seven eligibility criteria.
By law, the report must be completed by January 1, 2024. Many people can qualify for a microbusiness license, ranging from those from a low income background, to people living in an area considered impoverished, to those having arrest records in their past, or even having incarcerations related to marijuana offenses.
Vivas’ report will supposedly detail who the microbusiness program is opening access for, and ways outlining how the department could partner with the business community.
However, DHSS is also mandated by the Missouri constitution to prepare a publicly available report for the entire cannabis industry that provides “aggregate data for each type of license.”
Payne said this is where the importance of the voluntary survey would be evident. DHSS has distributed surveys throughout the cannabis industry in the past for other topics; such surveys have informed policies and partnerships — including legislation — regarding banking policies which the governor signed off on last week.
“If people are willing to put that information out in an anonymized way…,” Payne said, “being able to say, ‘Hey, the industry is this percentage male, this percentage of different racial and ethnic backgrounds,’ I think that is useful information from a policy standpoint.”