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Inside Denver’s Struggles to Diversify its Cannabis Market

The majority of white-owned cannabis businesses are the ones making billions of dollars a year, selling a substance that disproportionately put people of color in jail, as marijuana legalization sweeps the nation. In an effort to buck the trend, places like Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Oakland, California, have started programs to diversify their marijuana sectors and provide employment possibilities for those hurt by the war on drugs. However, these projects have had difficulty getting off the ground.

Denver set out to rethink the marijuana sector when it introduced its social equity program last year, allocating licenses for delivery services and cannabis cafes where individuals may consume. Nevertheless, despite its extensive expertise in marijuana regulation, Denver's social justice program is failing: less than 0.5 percent of the city's total marijuana sales come from delivery. The vast majority of the city's more than 200 cannabis stores have also turned down the chance to collaborate with social equity companies to conduct marijuana delivery.

The problems of the city teach us important lessons about what it means to help individuals who are negatively impacted by marijuana prohibition, about how industry rhetoric on social justice is frequently toothless, and about why even the best-intentioned regulations fall short.

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