Peter Labat and his wife Venia are a little puzzled, but also excited, to be part of a group of around 2,000 budding marijuana entrepreneurs scheduled to attend the very first Black CannaCon in late November at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. .
Since starting their business last year in New Orleans East, they’ve been surprised to find that the most popular item from The Labat Wood Shop by far has been their custom joint rolling trays. So they can’t wait to exhibit at the show and experience one of the fastest growing industries in the country.
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“The idea of going to a cannabis exhibition still seems a bit fantastic to me, almost Disney World,” said Peter Labat. “Here in New Orleans, cannabis cultivation is not that strong compared to places like Las Vegas or California, where it has been completely legal for quite some time. So, to learn more about dispensaries, the culture, distribution, it’s a whole new world. “
Louisiana’s cannabis laws were among the most restrictive in the country, even for medical use, although recent changes have relaxed things. In June, Governor John Bel Edwards passed legislation lifting the ban on whole flower smoking, restrictions that made the medical marijuana trade unsustainable. This will take effect early next year.
The idea for a convention and exhibition aimed exclusively at black cannabis professionals came to Kristi Price, editor of Black CannaBusiness Magazine, last November when an informal online meeting she hosted attracted over 600 attendees who ended up claiming a larger in-person event. continue the conversation, she said.
Price, a longtime marketing executive who had worked for brands like Nike, Red Bull and Guinness for the past two decades, started her Houston-based media company in 2019, in part with the idea of addressing this. which she saw as the deep disparity in the way the cannabis industry developed.
“There is no media or business-to-business conferences that target people of color in this space and people of color have a very different experience of the factory, both in terms of the criminal justice system and the point from a diversity and inclusion perspective, ”she said.
Indeed, the disparity in the criminal justice system is well established and has continued even as decriminalization and legalization of cannabis has spread.
A study released last year by the American Civil Liberties Union covering all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) found that arrests for possession of marijuana had actually increased in the eight years to 2018 compared to a previous ACLU study carried out between 2002 and 2010..
For the last period, not only have arrests increased, but the racial disparity in these arrests has remained the same: “On average, a black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than a black person. white person, even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates, ”the study found.
At the same time, black entrepreneurs fell behind their white counterparts as the cannabis market boomed. A Daily Marijuana Business A survey at the end of 2017 found that only 4.3% of cannabis business owners and founders were African American.
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This level of participation has changed little over the past five years. In December, the United States House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunities Reinvestment and Removal Act, which contains a number of measures to help correct the imbalance. They include the erasure of criminal records that prevent people from entering the cannabis business. In addition, it contains provisions to reserve cannabis cultivation and dispensary concessions for black owners, and it calls for the creation of a special cannabis tax-funded trust to give startups a boost. It has yet to be adopted by the Senate.
These and other questions at Black CannaCon will be discussed by speakers like Wanda James, former naval officer, senior executive at Fortune 100 insurance companies and economic adviser to former President Barack Obama. James, along with her husband, founded the first African-American-owned cannabis dispensary in the United States
In addition to being CEO of Simply Pure Dispensary in Denver and Managing Partner of the Cannabis Global Initiative, James is a longtime political activist for the legalization of cannabis and has successfully managed two congressional campaigns in his home state of Colorado. .
Price, a native of Houma and a graduate of Southern University in Baton Rouge, said the exhibition program will cover topics such as fundraising and culture, politics, technology and welfare issues.
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“Cannabis as a medicine is huge in the black community,” Price says, although she notes that despite the progress that has been made in areas of particular interest to the black community, such as sickle cell anemia and high blood pressure, there is still a large knowledge gap.
“Previously, if you told grandma that you are in the cannabis business, she would get your bail money back, so that’s part of the job we have to do,” she said.
To that end, one of the keynote speakers at Black CannaCon will be Dr Chanda Macias, who was Queen Zulu last year and has proselytized cannabis and its medicinal uses for a decade and a half in Louisiana.
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Labat, the carpenter who found himself in an industry that is growing by around 17% a year in the United States and is expected to reach $ 30 billion by 2025, said he was pleased with the progress made towards the standardization of the enterprise.
“It will be nice to connect with cannabis users who are entrepreneurs, who have children, high paying jobs and responsible adults who use cannabis,” he said. “It’s really just a normal part of the way of life now and a great business opportunity.”