Something's rotten in Denver, and it's not the pungent stench of burnt cannabis filling the air. As Colorado's legal weed party barrels full tilt into its third year, the laws governing the state's medical and recreational marijuana businesses still haven't reckoned with the ugly racial disparities at their core.
The way things are looking, they probably never will. Since Colorado Amendment 64 took effect in January 2014, legal cannabis has meant booming business for the Rocky Mountain State. By mid-June of that year, 292 people had filed notices saying they planned to apply for vendor licenses, according to the Denver Post, while the state government reported it was raking in$52.5 million in marijuana tax revenue including licensing and fees by the end of 2014.
It's one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States. But who's being kept out of this lucrative new market?
In Colorado, one of the requirements for getting a license to sell medical or recreational cannabis is that you don't have a controlled substance felony conviction on your record — including any involving marijuana. The irony here — that black people are far more likely to have such a conviction than any other racial group in the state — points to one of the biggest problems with legal weed trends sweeping the nation.
Legalizing recreational marijuana use has been lauded far and wide as a death knell for the war on drugs. The United States' incarcerated population has risen 500% since the 1970s, much of it fueled by arrests and convictions for nonviolent drug-related crimes. Only recently have politicians and the American people started to agree this is terrible policy and a new approach was necessary. Today, 20 U.S. states have either decriminalized or legalized marijuana.