Opinion: I am a black owner of a California marijuana company. Why aren’t there many others here?

As a black man who grew up in Orange, NJ in the 1980s and witnessed the effects of the war on drugs on my family and community, I never thought I would be in the marijuana business. But then again, I never thought I’d even be in the NBA.

I started in the cannabis industry more than 12 years ago, at the end of my 16 seasons in the NBA, with a mission to show others the healing power of the plant, as I showed my grandmother Viola, for whom I my company name. Although marijuana is now legal 23 states (and counting), I’m constantly reminded of all the people who look like me who spent years in jail for possessing a few grams of weed. As legalization expands, my top priority is to ensure that black and brown people have opportunities for generational resources in our communities.

But the lack of available banking options due to federal restrictions means that anyone looking to start and support a business in the market needs plenty of cash on hand. It takes tens of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to start such a business — money that most people of color don’t have. As a result, Less than 2% Legal marijuana businesses in the US are owned by people like me.

That could change if Congress passes it Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and expected soon for a key committee vote, the bill would shield banks and other financial institutions from federal sanctions for working with legal marijuana businesses.

One cannot build and sustain a business without access to banks. Access to a business account, credit cards and traditional loans and lines of credit are necessary for day-to-day operations and long-term survival in any industry.

Barriers to these services, including excessive taxes and local restrictions, have helped ensure California illegal market Cannabis continues to account for the majority of sales. Even the big guys in the legal industry are feeling it: some of California’s largest operators is closedAnd large, multistate corporations are Withdrawal from the market Left and right.

The few financial institutions willing to extend loans to minority-owned cannabis companies charge insane and unfair interest rates. no wonder NAACP There have been calls for “immediate passage” of the Safe Banking Bill. Our communities have always been targets of predatory lenders, and the marijuana industry is no exception.

Without access to banking, we would have to personally guarantee the success of our businesses and be liable without bankruptcy protection if they fail, which businesses often do. I have experience paying a creditor high interest rates while paying other companies unreasonable fees just to keep my money, making the chances of success even slimmer.

Passing this legislation will help black marijuana professionals thrive in a business that has historically been used against us, provide much-needed relief to the industry nationwide, and allow our businesses to operate like others. And while it won’t fully legalize marijuana, which should be the primary goal, it would be a great start.

Al Harrington is a former NBA player and CEO of Los Angeles-based Viola Brands.

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