Marne Madison, a board member of Exit Now, and founder of cannabis training company Fleur Verte Academy.

Missouri cannabis social equity advocates are frustrated policymakers and industry are not providing them the attention they believe they are due.

“We wouldn’t need social equity if there weren’t hurdles for us to get over,” said Marne Madison, a board member of Exit Now, a group of social justice leaders and criminal justice advocates in St. Louis.

Focusing on cannabis legislation is key for minorities she stressed.

“I think it’s important to understand that if we want to be included, we have to be able to understand what’s being written into cannabis legislation,” Madison explained. “For instance, I am not for federal legalization. I am for the removal of this plant as a controlled substance from the Schedule I list.”

Madison pointed out entry requirements, excludes a general population of minorities.

“The same way we’re able to own daycare centers and retail stores, we should be able to obtain a building permit, a business license and open up as whatever type of entity we can be.”

Fellow advocate, Abrahama Keys, executive director for Greater St. Louis NORML and owner of We Cann, an organization that works to build meaningful connections within the cannabis community said social equity advocacy in St. Louis, depends on what you’re talking about.

“There aren’t any Black license holders in Missouri,” she said. “There’s maybe one or two and they’re in transportation. There is no actual social equity. Most of the social equity advancements or even anything that you can see that would be considered social equity, is nine times out of ten, really ancillary-based.”

Keys specifically targets St. Louis City with her events.

“Many of the bigger organizations are not targeting patients there because that’s where most of the Black people are,” she said. “A lot of our people don’t want to drive to the county because of policing. So, usually, I try to hold events so that everyone can come and get information.”

As a Black-owned business, Keys prioritizes working with other Black-owned businesses.

“Social equity in Missouri is what you make it,” Keys said. “It’s not about more licenses being granted. It’s about purposeful inclusion. Inclusion doesn’t happen unless it’s purposeful. Social equity takes on a lot of different forms. It’s also important for people like reporters, bringing a spotlight on the lack thereof. I feel like when we, call it out, it’s like, ‘Oh you’re Black so of course you’ll say that.’”

With cannabis being a new industry in Missouri and the general culture in Missouri being majority Republican and white, Keys said that kind of attention is especially needed.

“Based on that, there’s already that mindset and a lack of inclusion in general,” Keys said. “It’s about these businesses feeling the pressure and being purposeful about working with these organizations that are Black-owned and that targets the African American community to give them the same access other communities are seeing.”

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Deborah Bayliss

Award-winning journalist with a career that started on Chicago’s South Side providing general news coverage. In addition to Illinois, coverage regions include Georgia and Louisiana where I provided city...