It’s in Jesce Horton’s nature to give back to his community. Instilled, from his fraternity days, with a sense of philanthropy and a desire to serve, he was seeking a path to continue that community engagement in his professional life. At the same time, Horton had a successful but unfulfilling career as an engineer and longed to discover his true passion so he could commit his life to its pursuit.
When Horton started to explore two complicated issues that disproportionately affect people of color—the war on drugs and minority health disparities—he found a direction that would both inspire him professionally and grant him the opportunity to help others: cannabis. The plant presented him with a chance to earn a living doing something he loved, a chance to give back and a chance to make change. He was struck by the powerful prospect of offsetting decades of inequality and disenfranchisement by making cannabis, both as a medicine and as an industry, more accessible to historically oppressed communities.
Thus, the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) was born, as well as the opportunity for many to “turn over a new leaf.”
Co-founded by Horton and colleagues in late 2015, MCBA’s mission is to increase diversity and to create equal access and economic empowerment for cannabis businesses, their patients and the communities most affected by the War on Drugs. With an active and knowledgeable Board of Directors that bring tremendous vision and resources, MCBA has spent the past year building a nationwide network—examining the complexities of issues facing minorities, and determining how the organization can have the greatest impact on the cannabis industry and beyond.
They’ve held events, such as networking meetings and a diversity summit in cities across the country including Portland, Oakland and Detroit. Partnering with Marley Natural, MCBA hosted Rise Up Oregon Expungement Day, an event providing free record expungement assistance to qualified individuals. Horton shared, “The expungement program that we did with Marley [Natural] recently—this changed people’s lives. Hearing people say, ‘Now I’m going to be able to get a job, now I’m not going to be denied housing,’ it’s unbelievable how easy it is but how much of an impact it makes.” To bring together lawmakers and business owners, MCBA has a policy summit in the works for 2017.
“Partnering with Marley Natural, MCBA hosted Rise Up Oregon Expungement Day, an event providing free record expungement assistance to qualified individuals.”
The end of cannabis prohibition brings a multitude of opportunities according to Horton, and not just for those who are looking to get into the business. Tax dollars going to rebuild struggling communities, job training and assistance, and grants for women and minority-owned businesses outside the cannabis industry are just a few possibilities. Done the right way, the legalization and regulation of cannabis can enable cities and states to right some of the historical wrongs that they have perpetrated on communities of color through the War on Drugs and other divisive strategies.
Of the potential for cannabis to positively influence society at large, Horton asserted, “Real social change is absolutely possible, but only if we approach it in that way. We can be a better industry, not just another industry, and that starts with being good social stewards.
Understanding what the War on Drugs has done and what we can do to reverse some of those issues, what we can do make sure we lift people up in general.”
MCBA plans to be in it for the long haul. Assuring more progressive policies that take into account communities of color and their distinct needs, and getting as much basic knowledge out there to the community so they can figure out how cannabis could most benefit their lives will remain a priority. They will continue to expand their community, gather their voice and push their agenda for a thriving, diverse cannabis industry, which for Horton, are interconnected goals:
The cannabis industry has to be successful, it has to grow in order for us to do any good. We think the industry will never get to the place where it can economically if we don’t have a strong focus on social justice. Neither will be maximized without the other; they go hand in hand because of the history of cannabis prohibition.
And while the MCBA pushes progressive change on the macro level, Horton spreads the cannabis love to those closest to him, encouraging his cousin, brother and friends to join him on this new journey. “From a community perspective,” he concluded, “all these things come together with cannabis: the ability to provide for a young family, the opportunity to get a job you love and not have to deal with the rat race, the opportunity to do good, the ability for us to be healthier, along with the chance to build generational wealth. There’s a vast realm of low hanging fruit—so many easy things to do as it relates to uplifting communities that have been disadvantaged.”