Wanda James, of Denver, is in the pot business to make money but she says it's also to make a point. James, who's African American, says blacks have been disproportionately punished for marijuana possession, but now that marijuana is legal in Colorado aren't seeing a big share of the booming industry.
Research by the American Civil Liberties Union based on Census Bureau and FBI data shows the use of marijuana among blacks and whites is about the same. Yet blacks are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana.
James and her husband, Scott Durrah, say they are Denver's first black owners of a medical marijuana dispensary. They also own Denver-based Jezebel's Southern Bistro and Bar and have operated other restaurants. The couple eventually sold the dispensary, but plan to open another one this summer.
James says part of the reason she's in the business is because of her half-brother who she didn't meet until later in life. He was caught as a juvenile with four-and-a-half ounces of pot, which was worth about $120.
"They arrested him on the spot and he spent four-and-a-half years in Huntsville Texas in a maximum-security prison at the age of 17 -- his first arrest," says James.
James says there are many reasons blacks are underrepresented in the industry. For one, she says they fear getting involved in the industry because of historic high incarceration rates compared to whites. She says many don't have the capital to get involved. Another factor is that states where recreational marijuana has been legalized -- like Colorado and the state of Washington -- don't have large black communities.
As for the industry, James says she wouldn't recommend it for people looking to cash in right away. She says she and her husband haven't make any money from it yet.
"There's a myth out there that people in the marijuana business are just making tremendous amounts of cash and as of today that's just not true," says James. "We're starting to see some change in the industry now that we've had a year of recreational or anyone age 21 [and over] can purchase."
James is still optimistic that she and her husband can make a marijuana business profitable, but for now she's content to work hard and be an example.
"I'm not saying that we're taking on the face for all African Americans," says James. "But there has to be an African American face and people in this that are inspiring others to move forward."