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Board of Governors candidate reflects on the intersection of cannabis entrepreneurship and racial justice

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Wanda James started her career in the cannabis industry after one of her brothers was arrested for selling $160 worth of cannabis. During his time in prison, he picked cotton in a Texas prison.

“When I found out about it, it was annoying enough for us to be able to start a business,” said the cannabis entrepreneur and candidate for the University of Colorado Board of Regents. “We wanted to put a black face on [cannabis business] And we talk about mass arrests, police brutality, and the effects of the drug war.”

Wanda James and her husband, Scott Dora, became the first legally licensed black entrepreneurs in America to own a dispensary, agricultural facility, and edible company. Photo courtesy of Wanda James

Ten years after it was legalized in the state, dispensaries line most of the city’s streets, and the shopping experience is streamlined and like any other retail experience. But what about the population most affected by cannabis policy?

With the presence of black Americans 3.64 times more likely Of the white Americans who will be arrested for cannabis use and possession of similar use amounts between groups, black residents are more likely to be charged with cannabis-related crimes. “And that’s why a lot of people of color don’t start the cannabis industry because early on you couldn’t have a felony in Colorado and be involved in cannabis,” James said.

Black businessmen to account only 2.7 percent One of the leading entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry in Colorado. Hispanic entrepreneurs account for 7.7 percent. “So far the fact that we are so far away [cannabis legalization] James said. “The opportunity to make up is not really there.”

Access to capital is a major limitation for entrepreneurs of color, and it gets worse as prices rise in the industry. The James I Dispensary cost them about $200,000. James noted that setting up dispensaries now costs millions. “There’s a lot of growth available, but big business is going to make it ridiculously expensive.”

Products sold by Simply Pure Brands. Photo courtesy of Wanda James

When James first opened her business, it was less difficult financially and more legal. People were still getting arrested and going to jail for selling cannabis when it was first legalized in Colorado.

“That was our biggest fear being to stay out of prison and make sure everything we did was legal,” James said. “There’s a huge difference when you fast forward to today in terms of the concerns that exist and how things look.”

James’ business has been raided. Law enforcement went so far as to confiscate all merchandise, and return them after they could not prove a crime had occurred.

“No one has been charged, but it’s still pretty scary when it happens,” James said.

Simply Pure Clinic is located in Denver. Photo courtesy of Wanda James

As more people use cannabis, James hopes that its use will become normal and that consuming cannabis products may one day be as common as drinking beer.

“It will be another decade to beat the cryogenic madness that still exists in the world,” James said. This chilled madness began in part with the War on Drugs. Nixon wanted to fight the drug war because it took care of blacks and hippies. My group of people couldn’t stand it. It allowed the federal government and local governments to arrest those communities and dismantle any kind of organization and different things that were going on.”

By the 1980s and 1990s, police had become more militarized and focused on policing inner cities and poor communities of color.

“America has always had a slave labor class,” James said. “Being able to put black and brown boys in prison between the ages of 17 and 24 became our slave labor class. It was easy to do with a cannabis arrest.”

As conversations around cannabis shift, old stigmas will be confronted.

James “Americans smoke weed and always do” preserved. “The issues behind legalization have been all the negative marketing behind cannabis that people have come to believe in about pot smokers. When I think of pot smokers, I think of Barack Obama, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Shachari Richardson. It was just false narrative and false marketing, and it has It worked. Now we are trying to undo 80 years of negative history.”

In October 2020, Governor Polis pardoned Coloradans who were convicted of possession of up to An ounce of cannabis. Although this is a start to do justice to those facing legal repercussions for cannabis use, it is not a solution to everything.

The ways our laws are written makes it difficult to do so [deliver justice] With just one stroke of the pen, which is another problem with our system that we should take a look at,” James said. “We definitely work our way through those records automatically.”

James is the only woman running for a seat on the University of Colorado Board of Regents in the November 2022 elections. The board oversees all four of the CU system’s campuses and manages a budget of $5.2 billion.

“I’m looking forward to diversifying the board,” James said. “There hasn’t been a black woman on the Board of Regents since 1984 when Rachel Noel served on the Board of Directors. It certainly has more than the time to include our voices. I look forward to moving this forward.”

With CU Boulder researching the effects of cannabis supplementation, James hopes to have open discussions about plant medicine through her position on the board.

“The idea that I’m working on cannabis will always bring the effect of opening up to different types of plant medicine,” James said. “I look forward to having healthy discussions and to be part of the conversations that move the entire CU system.”


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