The problem, many critics say, is that equity programs suffer from the exact same failings as every other business effort in cannabis. In order to stand a chance of winning a permit—let alone founding a viable business—Black and brown businesspeople must still find well-capitalized partners. Almost always, this means finding white partners—rendering equity programs little more than a cynical example of tokenism at best.
In the case of Berner's, not only was Richard compelled to partner with the kind of young, tech-savvy white men who already dominate the cannabis industry, he also partnered with white men who enjoy political connections, and who figured out a way to master the application process in order to edge out other applicants for the first weed store on this part of Haight Street—including people of color who say this compromised the process.
One of legalization's most common selling points is that it serves as a corrective. Ending arrests for cannabis possession and moving weed sales to taxed and regulated storefronts is how you "right the wrongs of the drug war," a goal endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Drug Policy Alliance, and just about everyone else involved in the legalization movement.
The problem is that so far, the multibillion-dollar cannabis industry is overwhelmingly white and male. In 2016, reporter Amanda Chicago Lewis found that only 1 percent of dispensaries nationwide were owned by Black people. A review the following year conducted by Marijuana Business Daily discovered 81 percent of people who started cannabis firms were white. In Chicago, all 11 of the stores selling weed on January 1, the first day of legal sales in Illinois, were white-owned—prompting one Black city alderman to compare cannabis to sharecropping.