In addition to providing a network of contacts and educational resources for aspiring entrepreneurs of color, MCBA advocates for legislative changes to state and local policies that impose legal and financial barriers to legal weed for many would-be business owners and consumers of color.
Beyond its being a “slap in the face” to the communities hurt most by marijuana enforcement, Horton sees the legal industry’s lack of diversity as a real hindrance to its potential for growth.
“It’s not just about doing the right thing and doing the moral thing,” he said. “But I think we’re in a unique industry where doing the right and the moral thing means more money, means more growth, means more sustainability.”
Meanwhile, in New York, Plowden and his fellow co-founders at the nonprofit Cannabis Cultural Association are hoping to get ahead of this issue by educating people of color on the evolving city and state marijuana policies, and encouraging minority involvement in the ancillary products of the cannabis industry, such as vaporizers and hemp products.
“We know we can’t do the same things as California or Portland can do,” but, Plowden insisted, it’s important to start having these conversations about diversity now.
“The industry is coming, but if we don’t have somewhat of a structure set up, we can stumble and put ourselves back 20 years,” he said.
For both men, their missions to reshape the black community’s relationship with marijuana have led them to change the conversation within their own families.
About a year or two ago, Plowden broke his family’s long-standing “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and asked his great-aunt Molly if she smoked weed. Yes, she answered, adding, “you’re the first one in the family to honestly ask me that question.” A few months later, she spoke at one of CCA’s events about her experience with marijuana and the effects of drug laws on her family.
Even Plowden’s mother has recently begun exploring medical marijuana as an option for dealing with skin cancer. However, she continues to implore her son to use caution, reminding him, “You’re still a black man who is promoting something that’s federally illegal.”
More than four years after he gave up his comfortable corporate career, Horton says, his parents are “very, very excited” about his success in the legal cannabis industry.
“My dad sees that I’m an entrepreneur now,” he said. “I’m much, much happier than I was when I was in corporate.”
Horton has also opened the door for other members of his family, like his cousin and brother, who both moved to Oregon to work with him. More than anything, though, marijuana is no longer the cause of family strife.
“My dad is a cannabis consumer; he always has been,” Horton said. Now “we can finally smoke together.”