Rev. Al Sharpton says he does not personally consume marijuana, but that’s not stopping him from calling for more black representation in the white-dominated weed industry.
Sharpton, a prominent civil rights leader and founder of the National Action Network, will be the keynote speaker at the Cannabis World Congress Business Exposition in New York on Friday. The event will mark the first time Sharpton will speak publicly about the decriminalization of marijuana use and call for an increase in diversity and better inclusion of people of color within the industry.
“Just because I don’t use marijuana as a Minister, does not mean I have the right to impose my moral values on others,” Sharpton said in statement sent to HuffPost. “However, I will challenge the cannabis industry and its distributors in states where it is legal to support civil rights movements and ensure that we are not disproportionately excluded from business opportunities.”
The event marks the fourth annual year for cannabis expo, which is recognized as the leading trade show and conference for the legalized cannabis, medical marijuana and industrial hemp industries. It will include a series of speakers and exhibits that will highlight ways to open, invest in and grow businesses focused around marijuana.
However Sharpton’s remarks will have a slightly different focus. As a leading civil rights advocate, Sharpton is expected to denounce the disproportionate number of marijuana arrests of black people. While black and white people smoke weed at a similar rate, black people are two to four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana pending on where they live.
Sharpton also aims to help identify ways people of color can become more involved in the industry where it operates legally, which is growing at a rapid rate and expects to surpass $21 billion in 2020. While it is hard to track down official statistics on the demographics of cannabis business owners, Buzzfeed’s Amanda Chicago Lewis investigated the issue and discovered that less than three dozen of the almost 3,600 storefront marijuana dispensaries in the country are black-owned ― about 1 percent.
“Decriminalization and diversity are hot buttons for this industry, and there is a low percentage of canna-businesses owned by people of color,” said Scott Giannotti, Managing Director, CWCB Expo Events, in an email. “To have one of the nation’s most prominent voices speak on this topic at CWCBExpo is an extreme honor. This is a turning point for the industry and we are proud to have Rev. Sharpton inspire real action forward.”