Philadelphia, PA – Cannabis legislation and the business of cannabis was the focus discussion at the 6th Annual Black Cannabis Week Cannabis Opportunities Conference, produced by the Diasporic Alliance for Cannabis Opportunity (DACO).  Held at Temple University School of Medicine each year, Black Cannabis Week brings attention to the overlooked and undervalued contributions of Black people in the cannabis industry with a focus on social justice.  The annual event includes workshops on wellness, entrepreneurship, community education and provides an opportunity for people to be certified for medical cannabis cards.

One of the highlights of the conference was a policy forum on recent cannabis legislation. Much of the focus was on social equity in the cannabis industry. Policy-makers who participated in the forum include Pennsylvania State Sen. Sharif Street, State Rep. Donna Bullock, State Rep. Darisha Parker, State Rep. Roni Green and others.

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro called for the legalization of cannabis for adult use by 2024. Shapiro’s executive budget proposes a 20% tax on the wholesale price of cannabis products. The budget assumes sales will begin on January 1, 2025, and estimates that legislation would generate about $16 million in tax revenue that year, increasing to $64 million in 2026, $132.6 million in 2027 and $188 million in 2028. The Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office projected the legalization of marijuana for adult use will generate $400 million to $1 billion in new tax revenue for the Commonwealth.

Shapiro’s proposal for legalization has support from both sides of the aisle. In July, Street, a Democrat, and State Sen. Dan Laughlin, a Republican, introduced Senate Bill 846 which would legalize and regulate adult use of cannabis in Pennsylvania. Street and Laughlin said, polls shows legalization “is supported by two-thirds of Pennsylvanians and has majority support in rural, suburban and urban legislative districts.”

Cannabis Opportunity Conference. James Robinson | Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus. photo courtesy of Black Cannabis Week.

Earlier this year, Laughlin sent a letter to state police urging officials to take steps to protect gun rights for cannabis consumers, especially medical marijuana patients, citing a federal judge’s recent ruling that the ban on gun ownership by marijuana users is unconstitutional.

The Street/Laughlin bill would allow those 21 and older to possess, use, purchase and transport up to 30 grams of cannabis, 1,000 milligrams of THC in infused products and five grams of cannabis concentrate. It would also allow adults over 21 to possess, obtain, use, transport and purchase cannabis paraphernalia. Medical cannabis patients only, would be allowed to grow up to five plants for personal therapeutic use.  It also would provide for Pennsylvania Courts and police to identify records of people with prior cannabis convictions and facilitate automatic expungements.

Senate Bill 846 would establish a Cannabis Regulation Fund under the state treasury department. The fund would cover administrative costs of a Cannabis Regulatory Control Board to administer the adult use and medical cannabis programs.

Street and others want to make sure Black people share in the profits from the billion dollar industry.  “This is going to be a multibillion-dollar industry,” said Street, who has sponsored the conference since its inception. “We need to make sure that we’re inclusive. We need to make sure that folks can participate at every level of this industry.”

Street’s legislation promotes diversity and full participation by individuals from disproportionately impacted areas. That includes most Black communities.  Disproportionately impacted areas are defined as areas with a poverty rate of at least 20% according to the Census; 75% or more of the children participate in the national school lunch program; where 20% of the households receive SNAP assistance; or an unemployment rate of more than 120% of the national average.

Special preference will be given to social and economic equity license applicants which is defined as an applicant with an annual income of less than $75,000 or financial assets that don’t exceed $250,000.  The legislation also provides for waiver of 50% of the non-refundable application fee, the non-refundable fee associated with purchasing a permit and any surety bond, for equity applicants.

State Rep. Donna Bullock, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, said including an equity program is the only way the legislation won her support. “No bill will move with my name on it until I’m comfortable that we actually answer those questions,” said Bullock, chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus. “No bill will move with my name on it until I know for sure we’re not repeating the mistakes of equity in name only. If you think you’re gonna get me with just some expungements, you got it wrong.”

Others echoed the importance of ensuring that equity programs are included in any cannabis legislation introduced.  Pennsylvania State Sen. Tim Carney from Delaware County, Dasheeda Dawson, founding director of Cannabis NYC, the city’s municipal marijuana agency; Shekia Scott, cannabis business manager for the City of Boston; and Gary Chambers, former Louisiana candidate for U.S. Senate, all spoke on the importance of equity programs.

New York Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who was prime sponsor of the New York cannabis legalization law, said, “If you don’t get equity in first, you’re not going to get it.”

Rep. Parker summed it up. “This is our reparations. Let’s get busy.”

The bill has been referred to the Senate Law & Justice Committee.