There tend to be fewer entrepreneurs who are women and who come from a minority background here and around the country.
Cannabis as an industry is not much different.
According to the National Hispanic Cannabis Council, which tracks licensee data nationwide to reveal equity issues in the industry, only 5.7% of licensed cannabis businesses are Hispanic-owned .
Women-owned cannabis companies make up 20% of the industry, according to a report by MJBizDaily.
The number of women- and minority-owned businesses in New Mexico tends to follow a similar trend within months of the start of adult cannabis sales.
“I’m deeply saddened that we haven’t made much movement in terms of fairness in this cannabis industry,” said Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce. “I’m sad that we haven’t started to move the needle and realize the promise that this industry in New Mexico holds for everyone. At the same time, I also see opportunity.”
Crunching the numbers
Of the nearly 2,000 licensees the state monitors, about 1,163 self-identified as having no Latino or Hispanic background and claimed white race.
Minority licensees, including those who identify as black, Asian American, Native American, mixed race, or other races, make up only 33 percent of the industry. By comparison, white licensees totaled 1,285, according to the New Mexico Department of Licensing and Regulation.
The numbers don’t stop there. In terms of gender, men account for 1,336 of the total license holders compared to only 547 women. Thirteen identified as non-binary and six as gender non-conforming, with 19 preferring not to answer.
Moving towards equity
Shifting any industry to leadership that matches the racial and gender makeup of its geographic area is always a tall order, especially in states that tend to have minority populations like New Mexico.
White people, and white men in particular, tend to have more access to capital than any other type of business owner or executive, Lewinger said. And that’s true here in New Mexico.
But there needs to be a shift in that direction, he said, giving more minority owners access to funds they may not have previously had.
However, this is not particularly easy in the cannabis industry.
Given the federally illegal status of cannabis, many lenders shy away from giving business owners access to the money they need to keep their businesses healthy and thriving. In this industry, Lewinger said, most of the capital to start a business or help it expand comes from private lenders.
The cannabis chamber, in fact, is working on an accelerator program focused on connecting legacy operators with new or potential business owners — a mentor/protégé relationship, if you will — that will help mentor them, Lewinger said. .
“I’m hoping that this is something that we can really build on, working with the state and working with some of our legacy growers or some of the new licensees that have been able to move more quickly in opening their businesses,” he said.
The chamber is working on a test of this program with the Greens Foundation.
Rachael Speegle, the company’s CEO, is helping to lead the charge and said the idea came from collaborative communication with the Cannabis Control Division and the Drug Policy Alliance to see where the challenges are in creating social equity in industry.
He said Verdes is working with at least one potential licensee by giving them full access to everything from Verdes’ books and vendors to insurance and legal representation, essentially helping them “get a faster edge,” he said .
“We’re … showing them how we do it incrementally,” Speegle said.
The state has been working to create a more level playing field for entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry. The Cannabis Control Division has held monthly workshops called InvestiNM that provide information to train potential entrepreneurs in the state, said Department of Regulation and Licensing Superintendent Linda Trujillo.
CCD, an arm of the department that Trujillo leads, has also partnered with the Picuris and Pojoaque towns in an intergovernmental agreement that aims to give them a voice in the regulation of cannabis operations on their lands, as well such as opening up the opportunity for tribal members to apply for state licenses. for any business they did outside tribal lands.
The state has also opened a loan program through the New Mexico Finance Authority aimed at micro-business loans of up to $250,000 at low interest rates.
But to bring the state’s newest industry to a place “that reflects the face of all New Mexicans,” all parties — industry and state leaders — must come together, he said Lewinger.
“We are committed to continuing to build a socially responsible cannabis industry and removing barriers for women, people of color and other marginalized groups to benefit from this new industry,” Trujillo said.