Ryan Alexander-Tanner

LIKE JOKES? I got one for you:

Q: What's green and white all over?

A: The cannabis industry in Oregon.

As we begin to see the rollout of canna businesses around the state, it's important we recognize that we here in Oregon are not a terribly diverse pool of ganjapreneurs. Part of that is due to the state's racial makeup; according to the US Census, as of 2013, Oregon had a population of 3,928,068, and of that, 88.1 percent is white. We are a state with a complicated and cringe-inducing history when it comes to how we have treated—and in many cases still treat—people of color.

In that context, it's important that we take steps to encourage diversity in Oregon's nascent weed business. One of the prominent figures on that front is Jesce Horton, co-founder and vice president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association (minoritycannabis.org). The MCBA is a nonprofit with a mission to make the cannabis industry more accessible to women and minorities.

Naturally, it's a big undertaking, and it comes with a multitude of interconnected issues that face the minority community, especially when we're talking about cannabis. As Horton said in a recent webinar with MJ Freeway, "For lack of a better word, minorities are shell shocked when it comes to anything regarding cannabis, regarding drugs and the potential to be arrested."

The MCBA lists three goals on its website: economic empowerment, social justice, and patients' rights. These are crucial issues, as minorities—whether they're in the cannabis business or not—have less access to investment money, pay higher interest rates, and are turned down at a greater rate than non-minority applicants. The historic racial disparity when it comes to cannabis-related arrests and prosecution is common knowledge, as is the way in which a marijuana prosecution can hamper someone's future business undertakings.

Patient rights are equally important, and as the MCBA website states, "The responsible use of cannabis has been reported to assist in the treatment of a number of medical ailments and social conditions, many of which affect the minority community at exceeding rates." It's vital to remember this, particularly as the rush to follow those recreational cannabis dollars comes at the expense of the plant's value as an established tool in helping the sick and injured in our communities.

The MCBA is working to address these matters through education, national networking, training opportunities, and serving as a voice for the minority population. I asked Horton for his thoughts on the emerging cannabis market.

"I believe cannabis consumers represent the most widespread demographic of any nonessential product," he said. "Cannabis culture, and the plant itself, teaches us so much about goodwill and unity. If we don't stay true to these facts, and build this industry with inclusion and diversity as cornerstone principles, it will never reach its full potential economically or as a means for positive social change."