But as more states have legalized the sale of recreational cannabis, prompting bigger companies to get involved in an industry that is increasingly mainstream, Ms. James is one of the few Black women in a leadership role. Several smaller cannabis businesses, mostly run by people of color and women — many of whom were caregivers who saw the benefits of medical marijuana for those they cared for — have been pushed out of the space, Ms. James said.
In fact, ownership by women of cannabis companies fell to 16.4 percent in 2023 from 22.2 percent in 2022 with racial minorities accounting for just 18.7 percent of owners, according to a report from MJBiz Daily, a publication that covers cannabis-related legal and financial news.
These days, Ms. James is not only pushing for wider cannabis legalization — recreational use of the plant is legal in 24 states and the District of Columbia but illegal on the federal level — but also for reform in the industry to ensure more people who look like her fill leadership roles.
She believes that by becoming a dispensary owner, and now a leader in an industry with policies that have historically harmed Black and Latino Americans, she could reclaim some power for minorities targeted in communities that were hotbeds of marijuana arrests. In New York, for instance, state cannabis regulators documented a staggering 1.2 million marijuana arrests that disproportionately targeted Black and Latino Americans over 42 years.
“There is so much happening in the industry to where it has not been a promising place that looks to diversity as a positivity right now,” she said. “We are trying to find out ways to help.”