As Michigan's marijuana industry booms, the state wants to address a lack of diversity in ownership

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Posted at 9:58 PM, Sep 22, 2020

(WXYZ) — It’s a lucrative business in Michigan. The marijuana industry is breaking records and is projected to hit a billion dollars in sales by the end of the year. However, the state is seeing less marijuana dispensary owners of color and that’s something they want to change.

“It was a painstaking process,” said co-owner of KAHN Cannabis Co., Ron Bartell.

With marijuana sales in Michigan projected to hit $1 billion this year, it’s no surprise more people want to get involved.

“It’s a booming business. It was taboo at one point but now it’s very mainstream,” Bartell said.

Bartell is a former NFL player with the St. Louis Rams and is a part owner of KAHN Cannabis Co. in the Russell industrial center. However, It wasn’t easy for him to get his business up and running.

“We’ve been working this project for approximately three years to go through the hoops, dealing with the state, the city, local officials,” Bartell said.

In a volunteer survey sent out by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), only 4 percent identified as Black cannabis license holders, even though Michigan’s Black population is near 14 percent. However, only 19 percent of the surveys were returned.

“What we’re really focused on now is trying to tackle this issue that a lot of states are in terms of social equity and looking at diversity and inclusion within the industry itself,” said Andrew Brisbo, executive director of the marijuana regulatory agency in Michigan.

Brisbo says business owners face many issues when trying to start up a business, including getting access to capital and general guidance on the industry.

“I’ve impaneled a work group, legislators and business leaders from a minority perspective so that we can start to address some of that inequity and come up with ways, policy ideas to help us achieve a better representation of ownership within the cannabis space,” Brisbo said.

For Bartell, he’s just happy to be up and running and growing his business.

“Just being able to operate in this space as an African American in this city is very important," he said. "Things are a lot more streamlined now. We were able to put it together, push it through the finish line and here we are ready to go up and operate."

Brisbo says he projects the market to reach as much as $3 billion in the coming years.