Comedian, former The Daily Show correspondent and star of Netflix’s the Patriot Act Hasan Minhaj featured an entire episode of his hit series regarding the legal marijuana industry. The episode, titled The Legal Marijuana Industry is Rigged, focusing on the fact that in many states that have legalized marijuana the legal industry has been setup to be dominated by big businesses, while excluding those who are low income and those who are part of a minority group (as the episode points out, there is just one marijuana shop with a black owner in all of Massachusetts).
As reported on by High Times, Minhaj takes note of the fact that legalization often favors large corporations which are overwhelmingly owned and operated by white men – he humorously focuses his ire on Adam Bierman, the much-maligned board member and former CEO of cannabis multi-state operator MedMen. In clips from a previously videotaped interview, Bierman compares himself to characters in the Eminem film 8 Mile. Minhaj, of course, isn’t having any of it, calling out the fact that Bierman grew up in San Diego and went to college at USC.
“You’re not 8 Mile. You’re fucking Ladybird,” he exclaims. “And if I have to stand here and listen to you pretend to be from Detroit any longer, I’m going to go chug a gallon of their water.”
“Beyond the obvious advantages of being well-capitalized, Minhaj reveals that large companies are often favored over small businesses by the regulatory schemes developed in many states. He cites the way cannabis business licenses are allocated and how a commonly mandated corporate structure known as vertical integration also tends to favor corporations over independent operators.”
“States are building systems that are good for giant weed companies and bad for almost everyone else,” Minhaj says.
The episode points out that in California regulators originally said that cannabis cultivation licenses would be limited to operations up to one acre to support small farmers, but after a $1.6 million lobbying effort by larger companies, the regulations were written to allow more than one license to be “stacked” by big operators, whose economies of scale allow them to undercut the prices of small operators.
As noted by High Times, Minhaj also laments regulations that require cannabis licensees to own and operate their complete supply chain from seed to sale in a business model known as vertical integration. The mandate makes no place for small independent companies. In Florida, for example, vertical integration has led to only five companies controlling 65% of the state’s legal cannabis market and licenses that sell for up to $55 million.
“This isn’t just capitalism and the invisible hand,” says Minhaj. “This is a demented thumb saying, ‘if you can’t afford to do every single step, you can’t even play the game. You’re either flushed with cash or you’re out.’”
Minhaj points out that even as the legalization of cannabis spreads across the nation, the racial disparities in the enforcement of drug laws continue.
“The war on drugs never ended,” Minhaj says. “Today, white and black people use weed at roughly the same rate, but black people are almost four times more likely to get arrested for it.”
“What this needs in order for people to be successful are a list of wraparound services—access to capital, legal, tax help, technical assistance,” Hart explains.
Noting that New York’s bid to legalize marijuana stalled last year over social equity provisions, Minhaj says how cannabis is legalized, not if, should guide the conversation.
“This is a racial and economic issue,” he maintains. “If we’re just going to make the rich richer, freeze out small business and the little guy and ignore victims of the war on drugs, should we legalize weed at all?”