Regulated marijuana offers new chance at equity: Q&A with social justice leader Martin Luther King III

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Image of Martin Luther King III

Martin Luther King III (Photo courtesy of MLK III family)

The spirit of the most celebrated social justice activist in U.S. history was present at MJBizCon 2023.

Martin Luther King III, son of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and co-founder of the Drum Major Institute, spoke during the conference session “Creating and Sustaining a Just and Equitable Cannabis Industry.”

After the panel discussion, King III spoke with MJBizDaily about why the regulated marijuana industry has captured his attention and his hopes for its future.

We are publishing the interview today to celebrate the start of Black History Month.

Tell us about your work with the Drum Major Institute.

Our primary objective is to find a way to address what my dad would have called “the triple evils” of poverty, racism and violence – eradicating those from our society.

We do that through embracing the values of peace, justice and equity.

I’m the chairman of the board of Drum Major; my wife, Andrea Waters King, is the president.

We have been doing work to protect and preserve voting rights, to expand and protect democracy.

It’s going to take a huge, huge coalition: No one organization, no one individual, can do it.

But we, collectively, working together, we can ultimately address those issues.

What opportunities do you see for the cannabis industry to address issues of equity?

Anytime organized labor is engaged, it creates a real opportunity so that workers’ rights can be protected.

And it can be mutually beneficial; it does not have to be adversarial.

The fact is, this isn’t a “new” industry, but it’s going to be a huge, huge industry.

Although it’s existed for a few years, is still just scratching the surface of what it’s going to become.

If workers’ rights are protected, which is what (unions) do for certain workers in our society, it’s a good thing.

We’ve always had labor involved with the issues that we’ve been involved in.

I’m elated to have an opportunity to say, “Yes, this is a brand-new business opportunity.”

There’s so much education that has to take place around cannabis and the medicinal effects.

There are things that we don’t yet know – the potential that (cannabis has) to really help people.

That’s why I’m so happy to be a part of this effort and engaged.

The war on drugs has affected Black and brown communities specifically. What have you witnessed?

Over the last seven to 10 years, I’ve begun to become more engaged and involved.

There are so many disparities. You have young African, Black and brown members of our community who are in jail for things that our society has finally come around to.

One of the things we’ve got to figure out is how do we expunge records of all these people who were convicted of nonviolent crimes and given felony sentences, which is just unconscionable.

There’s a lot of work to do on that side.

What would you say to business owners trying to make it in the cannabis industry?

With any new entity, there are going to be opportunities and challenges.

Resilience is the commodity that I would hope an organization would want to embrace.

It sounds like, “Oh, this is easy. This should be like giving candy to a baby.” But that’s not the case. It is a legitimate business.

You have to put a legitimate business structure in place.

If you have a good plan – a good, foundational plan – then I think you can execute.

People will support you. And that’s really what new business owners need sometimes: mentoring.

One of the things that would be a great help would be for some of these large businesses to say, “OK, we’re going to mentor these individuals who are newly coming into (the regulated industry) as entrepreneurs.”

That has opportunity to create success.

Your session at MJBizCon was marketed as “Dare to Dream.” What does that mean to you?

What it means is, you have to relinquish all inhibitions.

Our society sort of puts you in a box … as opposed to taking the blinders off to expand and realize that there’s almost nothing that you cannot do if you put your mind to it.

You put in the work, you build a strategic plan. It’s unlimited what you can become.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Kelly Riddle is MJBiz’s director of content marketing. She can be reached at kelly.riddle@mjbiz.com.