Here’s an interes琀ng fact: The na琀onal legal cannabis industry is bigger than the Na琀onal Football League. Many bil­ lions of dollars bigger. Take 2020, a pan­ demic year, for example. The NFL saw its annual revenues decline by $4 bil­ lion, to $12 billion, while medical and recrea琀onal marijuana sales grew by 60%, to $18.4 billion.

Of course, the NFL came back strong in 2021, with $18 billion in revenue, but it was s琀ll no match for the U.S. cannabis industry, which scored $26 billion in sales. But where the two are more in alignment is when it comes to the lack of diversity among ownership despite the support each business receives from minority consumers of their pro­ ducts.Tahir Johnson isn’t taking on the quix­ o琀c challenge of changing the NFL’s lack of diversity in team ownership. When speaking about the business of cannabis, he uses the NFL to provide “proper context” on his efforts to keep the s琀ll­very­young industry from con­ 琀nuing a trend toward building an en­ trenched NFL­like monochroma琀c corporate makeup.

Johnson is the director of social equity and inclusion for the U.S. Cannabis Council, a broad coali琀on of cannabis businesses, organiza琀ons and people working to legalize the drug at the fed­ eral level. The Council was founded in 2021. He holds the same posi琀on with the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that has been around for 26 years and is a major player in backing state ballot ini琀a琀ves to legalize medical and recre­ a琀onal marijuana. He also hosts a pod­ cast called “The Cannabis Diversity Project.”

A 2005 graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C., Johnson is lever­ aging his background in wealth man­ agement to help influence policies and laws regula琀ng cannabis markets across the country. He wants to see a greater representa琀on of Black ownership in the cannabis space, which has fallen to 2% from 4%, and more minority in­ volvement in the cannabis job market.

“As with anything, if you can’t change the policies and the laws to help create opportuni琀es for us, it’s not going to get done,” he says. “Access to capital is one of the hugest problems and biggest things that impact us being able to get into this industry. It could cost you, if you want to open a dispensary, a million dollars. People from our communi琀es don’t have that. And, furthermore, can­ nabis being federally illegal means that there’s no access to banking.”

The drive for social equity and inclusion in the cannabis industry is gaining mo­ mentum, with some states taking very progressive ac琀ons to encourage a di­ verse mix of interests in marijuana­re­ lated businesses. A昀er years of trying, Johnson recently applied and received a dispensary license in his hometown of Trenton, N.J., using personal savings and his 401k to cover related expenses like a琀orneys’ fees.

Florida’s ver琀cally integrated business model 琀ghtly restricts access to its medical marijuana market, with licen­ sees required to manage everything from growing the cannabis plant to sell­ ing products at the treatment centers they own. There are currently no Black­ owned medical cannabis cul琀va琀on businesses in Florida, where the license applica琀on fee ranges from $61,000 ­ $146,000 — the highest in the country (at the wri琀ng of this ar琀cle).

Johnson encourages people of color to enter the marijuana space through side doors.

“People o昀en think about the plant­ touching opportuni琀es, like at the dis­ pensary, cul琀va琀on, or manufacturing facility. But, really, one of the greatest opportuni琀es that I see for our people to get involved in the industry is through ancillary services,” he says. “There are over 400,000 jobs right now in the cannabis industry and they ex­ pect that to quickly be over half a mil­ lion. Cannabis is the career of the future.”

Visit h琀ps:// to watch MMERI’s Conversa琀ons on Cannabis Virtual Forum on YouTube featuring Tahir Johnson. [Link: h琀ps://­]