JAY-Z — aka Shawn Carter — is launching a fund to invest in minority-owned cannabis startups to bolster Black participation in the overwhelmingly white cannabis industry.
When the rapper launched his cannabis line MONOGRAM last December, it signaled a new chapter for the marijuana business. However, now he's taking it one step further and trying to undo the industry's inherent racism by launching the Social Equity Ventures fund. The goal is to promote Black participation in the cannabis space and serve as a stepping stone for the people who have been maligned by America's War on Drugs.
“We were the ones most negatively affected by the war on drugs, and America has turned around and created a business from it that’s worth billions,” JAY-Z told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s not a spreadsheet, it’s real people...I wanted to do something in a real, concrete way, where I do my part.”
While people of color are disproportionately stigmatized and punished for their involvement in the industry where it is illegal, they rarely profit off the multibillion-dollar market of legalized weed. As state after state moved to legalize marijuana, an influx of companies emerged to fill the market. Some then asked, "Why were white men poised to get rich doing the very same thing that African-American boys and men had long been going to prison for?"
The Social Equity Ventures fund is meant to serve as a foot-in-the-door for people of color by backing minority-run startups with up $1 million each. JAY-Z acquired $10 million in seed money from a newly established California-based cannabis company dubbed The Parent Company, which will sustain the fund by continuing to allocate two percent of its annual income to it.
JAY-Z has been an outspoken detractor of the "war on drugs," which devastated Black and brown communities since it was devised by Nixon in 1971. He's also been vocal about the way marijuana legalization disproportionally benefits predominantly white states and companies, while people of color continue to do time for minor drug violations.
Jay's MONOGRAM and newly-established fund aim to fight social justice issues related to weed legalization and "increase the economic participation of citizens returning from incarceration" through “advocacy, job training, and overall employee and workforce development."
“Together, we hope to shape the conversation surrounding cannabis, foster equality and fairness in the development of the industry, promote awareness for the many uses and benefits of cannabis, and empower consumers to feel free to use cannabis how, when, and where they want,” Caliva said in a statement. The hope is that people of color might profit from this emerging industry.
Unfortunately, even with the legalization of marijuana, marijuana-related arrests nationwide continue to increase every year, with more than 660,000 arrests in 2018 alone, over 90 percent of which were for possession alone. What’s worse, these arrests continue to disproportionately impact Black and brown communities, though Black and Latino people are no more likely to use or sell marijuana than their white counterparts. This disparity persists even in states like Colorado that have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
These statistics reveal deep-seated racial inequalities that are baked into the legal system. Meaningful change can't then come from billionaire entrepreneurs and the kind of trickle-down economics that figures like JAY-Z and Pharrell have advocated for, albeit with good intentions.
A profit-driven legal cannabis industry can't be expected to deliver racial and economic justice. Meaningful change will come with the relocation of funds away from the carceral system and the police force and with increased funding in grassroots organizations.