Denver’s marijuana business lacks range, official research present


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Denver’s marijuana industry has long been criticized for lack of diversity, but now city officials say they finally have the numbers to prove it.

Nearly 75 percent of local marijuana business owners identified themselves as white in a survey commissioned by the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, 12.7 percent of owners identified themselves as Latino, 5.6 percent as black, and 2.8 percent as local East. Asians and Native Americans were not represented by a single owner in the survey; More than a quarter of those questioned did not disclose their origin.

According to 2019 Census Bureau data, 80.8 percent of the Denver population identified as white or predominantly white, 29.7 percent identified as Latino, 9.8 percent identified as black, and 4.4 percent identified as Asian. (People can tick more than one race on their census form.)

“Unfortunately, this study confirmed what was widely suspected. Just like across the state and other legalized markets in the US, Denver doesn’t have a diverse marijuana industry, “said Ashley Kilroy, director of excise and licensing, in a statement announcing the survey results.

Employee demographics were slightly more diverse, with respondents checking in 68 percent white, 12.1 percent Latino, 5.9 percent black, 2.2 percent Asian, and 5.9 percent Native American.

Denver Marijuana Industry Ownership Lacks Diversity, Study Shows (2)

Denver Department of Excise and Licenses

The study notes that the sample size of responding owners was less than seventy and that the results “should be interpreted with caution”. However, a more comprehensive licensee analysis by the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division in 2018 showed that statewide trends are even more skewed, with whites owning 88 of the marijuana business licenses, compared with Latinos and black owners of 5 and 2 percent, respectively.

Colorado’s lack of social justice for communities hit by the war on drugs has come under scrutiny as barriers to consolidation and funding rise in the marijuana industry. Bills to eradicate previous cannabis crimes and provide funding and licensing opportunities for social justice applicants to the state legislature were largely trimmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, although there is still a push this year, a definition of one Create applicant for social justice for future programs.

In the early stages of the marijuana licensing working group meetings, Denver promised to address future marijuana business opportunities through a social justice perspective, but no initiatives or licensing opportunities have yet been created. The study, which was released several months later than intended, will finally give city officials the data they need to run more aggressive policies, according to Kilroy.

“Fortunately, this study provides important information that will help us take new steps to improve equal access to the Denver cannabis industry,” she continues. “We look forward to working with the industry, social justice activists, lawmakers, and other stakeholders ahead to create a Denver social justice plan that offers more opportunities to increase diversity as Denver introduces new marijuana in the future. Licenses creates. “

Minority marijuana business organizations like Color of Cannabis, Black Cannabis Equity Initiative and Equitable Consultants believe these opportunities must be created before new marijuana delivery or hospitality licenses are approved in Denver, and also before the upcoming lottery for the dozen of remaining marijuana business locations below the city’s pot business line. Proposals included providing a certain number of licenses for social justice applicants and using marijuana tax revenue to fund loans and training for skilled social justice entrepreneurs.

“I do not think so [the survey] necessarily holds the city accountable because the whole reason was more to prove to the industry that social justice was a problem, “says Sarah Woodson, director of Color of Cannabis.” We as a community always knew who owned what, but now everyone can see it. “

Woodson has proposed a one-on-one structure for new Denver marijuana business licenses, with one license reserved for social justice applicants for each standard applicant. “One to one is fair,” she says. “They set aside social justice licenses every time they license it, whether it be delivery or hospitality. That doesn’t stop others from getting involved, but it does ensure that qualified applicants can benefit when caps or moratoriums come up . “

The challenges for participation vary widely between employees and owners, the Denver study found. Among marijuana workers, 83.3 percent cite criminal background checks as an obstacle, and between 64 and 78.5 percent say the same about startup costs, neighborhood and zone restrictions, access to banks, and licensing options and procedures. Only 16.7 percent of owners see background checks as a challenge, with start-up costs (35.8 percent) being the most well-known obstacle.

Nearly 57 percent of the total respondents think the chances of getting a home in the city are “poor,” while just over 24 percent say the same about fair hiring practices. Almost 53 percent of all participants describe job opportunities as “good”, but over 70 percent of employees say that low wages for entry-level jobs are one of the biggest barriers to entry.

The full survey can be found below.

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Thomas Mitchell has been a cannabis-related writer for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate, and general news for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman, and Fox Sports. He is currently the cannabis editor for

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