As business booms, MCBA’s activism extends to the marginalized


The Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) is a 501(c)(6) national trade association created to serve the specific needs of minority cannabis entrepreneurs, workers, and patients/consumers. The organization currently serves members from across the United States. Its 15-member board of directors is comprised of a diverse group of cannabis industry veterans and activists from across the U.S. and their to-do list features very few items that are easy to complete and scratch off the list in a short amount of time.  MCBA is busy on a multitude of fronts, and their goal is to impact and influence policy to better the industry and ensure social equity.

Add to that the fact that any kind of association has scores of responsibilities beyond their organizational initiatives.  That keeps MCBA and their volunteer board and membership constantly performing a juggling act – largely dictated by changes in proposed legislation (sometimes aware of ahead of time in order to prepare) or things like COVID-19 (NEVER aware of ahead of time in order to prepare).

Ortiz, photo courtesy of the MCBA

Jason Ortiz, the board president of MCBA spent time with Greenway to talk about what the organization has as its constantly evolving agenda and extensive day-to-day challenges.  Ortiz, a graduate of the University of Connecticut has had an interesting career, and his choice of roles and focus were all driven by a single event.

“I was arrested at 16  for a minor marijuana possession and saw the realities of the harm stemming from the war on drugs and the concept of ‘selective enforcement’ in action.  I was suspended from school for 45 days and that’s a long time to be able to immerse yourself in learning new things.  I took that time to learn all I could about activism and that made my path what it was,” said Ortiz.

Ortiz went on to being working with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) organization in college, whose work made it possible for him to GO to college.

“They were working on a bill, or provision, called the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty. And that was a provision in the higher education funding bill at the time [in the 2000s] that said, if you had been convicted of a drug offense, you are not eligible for financial aid. That was making thousands – if not millions – of young people not able to access higher education. But in the time between I graduated high school and went to college, SSDP changed that law, and made it that you only got denied financial aid if you got caught while on financial aid. So anyone who got caught while outside of college was no longer penalized. and continued to serve in various capacities in other activism roles and organizations.”

With that kind of foundation driving his career decisions, it’s easy to see how Ortiz fits in with the MCBA organization.  They consider themselves activists, and they are giving attention and delivering progress in cannabis policy across the country.  While the association itself is national, much of the work they do comes from opportunities in different states, cities, and even counties in every geography in the US as well as some global markets.  Don’t let the associations use of the word “minority” in their name restrict your thinking that their work is about race.

While they strive for ensuring that racial discrimination occurs in the industry, but “minority” means more than just race to the group.  A minority in the association’s eyes is under-served groups who aren’t getting an equitable opportunity to be owners or license holders in the cannabis industry. Minorities can be low-income white people, veterans who received dishonorable discharges based on cannabis infractions, victims of the war on drugs who have previous cannabis-related convictions, or people of color, be they black, brown, or beige.

An interesting reality that MCBA and Ortiz face every day is that there is often tension between activists and businesses, which he says isn’t a bad thing.

“The tension between the groups is both positive and negative, we all want the industry to succeed, but activists want everyone to succeed, but there are big national multi-state operators that want THEIR business to succeed.”


Just as the issues are handled differently by activists and businesses depending on several factors, so are the expectations of politicians in different geographies.

Ortiz illustrates the disparities between locations by citing that “Oakland has far different obstacles and victories than  Connecticut or Mississippi has by having a national presence with several in the field locally, they’re able to share how other locations have addressed issues and help replicate the best practices they have seen work.  The organization uses its widespread teams in locations across the country to attempt to bring together the “pockets” of groups that exist in local communities and bring them together to attack nationally, especially when it comes to policy change.

The group has big plans in 2020, some of which are already deeply in progress.  While the focus on social equity in licensing legislation and policy is always on the forefront, Covid-19 has quickly required them to simultaneously devote significant attention and advocacy for helping with the financial repercussions of Covid on the cannabis industry.  MCBA is highly engaged with political allies and their lobbying efforts are on the recently introduced bill for allotting relief funds to cannabis businesses, many of which are deemed essential in several states.

With regard to social equity work, the monster that they’re attempting to thwart is a lack of social equity for licenses, disabling the ability of under-served groups to have a fighting chance at obtaining licenses.  An article from the AP cited, “Some states and cities have started post-legalization initiatives to expunge criminal records and open doors in the cannabis business for people with pot convictions. California, for instance, passed a sweeping expungement law last year affecting hundreds of thousands of drug offenders.”

MCBA has many allies in the fight for social equity.  Imani Dawson, Executive Director of the Cannabis Education Advocacy Symposium and Expo (CEASE) and National Communications Director for Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM), echoed the point that bringing serious funding to equity ventures should be among lawmakers’ top goals.  “Obtaining a marijuana license is practically impossible without a million dollars [or more], which is why there are only a handful of women- and person of color- (POC) led dispensaries. We aren’t reflected in venture capital spaces, and it’s clear how much representation matters,” Dawson commented in a previous interview.

Multiple activists, advocates, and social equity champions all agree on this – effectively ignoring cannabis history and the needs of equity applicants definitely won’t help this young industry ‘beat the black market’ either.

Shanel Lindsay, owner and CEO of ARDENT and a member of the Massachusetts Cannabis Advisory Board, has been quoted saying, “If regulators want this industry to succeed, they also need to make a serious effort to help secure and provide funding for people of color, women, and other minority groups who want to enter it. Those groups make up small business and medium-sized business in cannabis, and if they’re not included, we’ll end up with Big Cannabis, and the kind of sub-quality products we’re seeing in Massachusetts now,” Lindsay added.

Participation in collaborative opportunities with other groups and building a network of alliances in the industry has led MCBA to continue working on their State Model Build, which will be available in the fall for widespread use.  The model will provide guidance and assistance in ensuring that a baseline primer for social equity considerations and recommendations are available for anyone attempting to get it right in their own local efforts.  MCBA will continue to exert a strong media voice, present and participate in panels, and continue to host their own events in order to keep their momentum moving forward.

As for Ortiz himself, he’s committed to continue his activism and work in the US, but as a native Puerto Rican, he’s also pursuing cultivation licenses in his place of birth.  Ortiz says that the road to economic recovery in his former home can be greatly accelerated by a successful and legal cannabis industry and he plans to be a part of it, possibly in 2021.  His focus now is to persevere in the efforts of MCBA and his role with the National Puerto Rico Agenda to drive justice in the cannabis industry until we’re able to reach a place where the promises of opportunities for everyone haven’t quite made it – YET.

Learn more about MCBA at their website.