Now, he’s become the unlikely face of a movement to empower people of colour to get into the legal cannabis industry—an industry largely dominated by rich white men.“It’s going to be all whites doing everything,” said Ross, his wiry frame engulfed by a sweatshirt bearing his face and nickname. “The guys who’ve been on the streets selling, all they’re going to be able to do is consume.”On paper, California and cities within it have passed more measures to address the harms of the drug war than any other jurisdiction with legal weed. Those measures include a streamlining of the expungement process for people with criminal records and equity programs to help criminalized people get into legal weed.
"It's going to be all whites doing everything."
This year, California passed a law requiring the Department of Justice to review and identify all records eligible to be expunged or reduced and pass those onto each county. Barring any issues raised by district attorneys offices in individual counties, the records become automatically available for expungement or reclassification (e.g. felony to a misdemeanor).Even so, a lot of people don’t know about the law or haven’t taken advantage of it.“The problem is most people are so traumatized from the system that they won’t go into county buildings, they don’t want to be near law enforcement, they just don’t,” said Bonita Money, cofounder of the National Diversity and Inclusion Cannabis Alliance (NDICA), a group that advocates for equity in legal weed.
"Most people are so traumatized from the system that they won’t go into county buildings, they don’t want to be near law enforcement."
“Rick comes from those communities, that’s his stomping grounds. They know Rick, they trust Rick, therefore Rick can go in and create awareness and outreach that most people couldn’t.”When Money, a Black woman, started in the weed industry five years ago there was hardly anyone who looked like her. No one was interested in hearing her message about diversity, she said.
Black people in California were nearly five times more likely to get arrested for a felony cannabis offence than white people, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.
Buying or leasing a space that may cost $20,000 a month in rent is impossible for low-income candidates. That’s why the program allows for investors to partner with equity retailers. In theory, the investor should have a minority stake in the dispensary, but Money and Ross say in practice, some investors are trying to exploit the system by paying people from affected communities money to apply for a licence and then not actually allowing them to have ownership. Or by giving them a small percentage of the company as opposed to the 51 percent to which they’re entitled.
"It's like modern-day slavery."