The Marijuana Business Conference & Expo (MJ Biz) is the number one global cannabis business conference and tradeshow.
The event is held annually in Las Vegas and attracts more than 35,000 cannabis professionals and enthusiasts.
This year there were huge displays of oil extraction, plant demonstrations, and vending machines full of joints; think Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory, but instead of chocolate and Oompa Loompas, envision cannabis and showroom models, the large two-floor showroom was full of people excited to learn and share their knowledge about the newest cannabis inventions and innovations.
In that bustle, I conversed with a black woman previously incarcerated for fifteen years after being caught smoking a joint at a party when she was twenty-six. Ava felt it was unjust that smoking cannabis had taken fifteen years away from her life, and now she was at a legal conference dedicated to cannabis prosperity in the professional sphere.
She cried as she told me her story of missed birthdays, missed opportunities, and her life in prison. Ava went on to explain that she wanted to start a cannabis business; however, she could not do so because of the laws that prevent people with criminal cannabis-related records from having a real stake in the legal cannabis industry.
Ava’s story lead me to research just how difficult it would be to break into the cannabis industry as an entrepreneur or a business owner. According to the MCBA National Cannabis Equity Report the number and efficacy of state social equity programs does not reflect the industries commitment to diversity.
The utilization of non-race qualifications has not made the cannabis sphere more diverse. There is a limited number of states that provide equity funding and those that do struggle to issue timely funding to their beneficiaries making it difficult for them to enter the cannabis sphere. There are bans on ownership for individuals with prior cannabis convictions even in states where cannabis is legalized.
During the conference, I heard speakers and attendees talk about how the War on Drugs robbed predominately black and brown bodies of their futures. Now that cannabis is legal, predominately brown and black bodies are being denied access to cannabis wealth and according to the ACLU’s report, A Tale of Two Countries racially motivated cannabis arrest are widespread and rampant.
Discussions around social equity must continue at MJ Biz so that stories like Ava’s aren’t forgotten. However, it is even more critical that we foster conversations that lead to action about how we, as a cannabis community, can provide wealth and access to communities previously devastated by cannabis.
Overall, I was super impressed with MJ Biz Con. I have always firmly believed in putting myself in a room where people I want to advocate for are.
It was amazing to meet everyone, see the innovations in the cannabis industry, and get a feel for the emerging psychedelic section of the law. I genuinely believe that the legalization of cannabis will help so many people and, in doing so, change the world.