The National Hispanic Cannabis Council launched on Thursday, ready to focus the current discussions around race and cannabis on its own community.

The goals of the newly launched organization center around empowering the U.S. Hispanic community through education, entrepreneurialism and economic opportunity.

In a statement announcing the launch, the NHCC noted its membership will include people and businesses across the U.S. that will be organized into chapters. NHCC’s new executive director Antonio Valdez went into more detail on the organizational landscape.

“Local and national networking events and mentorships will allow individuals from across the country to learn about employment opportunities in the industry,” Valdez said. “The NHCC also aims to be a leader in bringing health care expertise directly to the Hispanic community to educate consumers and demystify cannabis-related medical and wellness products that have been transformational in the lives of millions of consumers.”

The NHCC’s founding board includes Brian Vicente, one of the industry’s biggest lawyers. Vicente said NHCC will work to repair the damage caused by old prohibition policies. But apart from the damage already done, a major organizational goal is to ensure the Hispanic community benefits from the new legal systems coming online. Vicente argues those retailers coming online are replacing Hispanics that had worked in the traditional market.

“We are excited to launch this organization at a time of unprecedented economic opportunity in the emerging legal cannabis industry,” Vicente said in the statement.

We caught up with Vicente on launch day to dive a little deeper into NHCC’s plans.

“I think this is a crucial organization in an incredible time for our country and also at an incredible time for cannabis reform,” Vicente told L.A. Weekly. “Given the history of Hispanics being really the whipping boy of the drug war and in many ways the origin of cannabis prohibition.”

Compared to other communities of color devastated by the drug war, we asked Vicente if the way it interacted with Hispanic culture truly transcends borders.

“Yeah. I mean basically, like literally, the formation of cannabis prohibition was to criminalize Hispanics – Mexican immigrants in the United States back in the early 1900s,” he replied. “So of course, it’s all terrible, and we continue to have the heavily disproportionate impact on blacks and African Americans, too.”

Vicente says one of the major issues the group will be targeting is the fact just about 5% of cannabis businesses are owned by Hispanics.

“That’s wildly out of line with the general demographics of our country, including California, which is 40% Hispanic,” Vicente said. “As folks that have been disproportionately treated poorly for years, we think as it opens up and becomes legal, this group should really be able to engage in those economic opportunities. And that’s really why an HCC came together, to kind of identify this gap. But there’s not really any voice that’s speaking on behalf of Hispanic cannabis consumers and Hispanic professionals in the cannabis space. So there’s a core group of us that came together.”

We asked Vicente what he’d say to the argument a lot of the leadership of the Minority Cannabis Business Association is Hispanic. Didn’t the community have a voice already?

“You know, I think that’s remarkable and certainly a positive thing. I think there’s a difference in terms of focus, right? My understanding is, and I think that MCBA is a fantastic organization, I think a lot of their focus is on policy change and sort of addressing these pressing social issues around cannabis, which is super important,” he replied. “This organization is more focused on the business-forward side of how we get the Hispanics networking, how do we educate the Hispanic population exclusively on this issue and really empower those that set aside in that realm.”


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