NEW YORK - As the movement to legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational use sweeps the country the cannabis industry is creating new jobs and raking in millions of dollars in legal profits.
It is happening at multiple levels, from neighborhood dispensaries to the investment level. And keeping with the times, there's often a social justice component.
Noah and Marlena Fishman are on the leading edge of cannabis entrepreneurs, often called "cannapreneurs."
The couple created Zenbarn Farms in the rolling hills of Vermont on land the family has owned for years.
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There is a traditional country store for CBD products and edibles, including some with Vermont maple syrup. They also have a thriving online business and a commitment to sustainable farming.
They also give a percentage of their profits to social and racial justice causes.
"This industry has potential to do something this country has never seen before," Noah Fishman says. "It can push us to do business differently, can push us to transform our healthcare system."
Marlena Fishman adds, "From a small scale to the sustainability of bringing youth and people back to the land and finding alternative healing practices and medicines, if you will, and just the whole community aspect."
The legalization of medical marijuana with a prescription gave the cannabis industry credibility and reduced its stigma as an illicit drug in an underground economy. It also opened the door to some states to allow legal recreational sales.
That created major investment opportunities that are now generating billions of dollars.
Brad Rogers is the CEO of Red, White and Bloom, one of the top cultivation and dispensaries operations in the U.S.
"When you look at the potential of what this is, that's a real economy and this is just the beginning," Rogers says. "All states haven't yet legalized for medical and rec and, once they do on both sides, it will become even bigger."
Rogers says there is a financial risk but also an industry-wide awareness that they must provide opportunities for communities of color that suffered under old marijuana laws and racially targeted arrests.
The ACLU found that between 2001 and 2010 there were approximately 8.2 million marijuana arrests in the U.S.; 88% of them were for possession. Black people were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested despite roughly equal usage.
Journalist AJ Herrington says the commitment to right the wrongs is real and there is more to it.
"Expungement of convictions is absolutely a part, has to be a part of legalization so people don't have something following them for the rest of their lives, especially something that is now legal," Herrington says.
Buyers and investors need to be aware that there is still a wide variation in legality among the states, from completely illegal to fully legalized medical and recreational use of marijuana, like in California.
Street Soldiers with Lisa Evers explores more on this topic on Friday, April 23, 2021. Watch live on FOX 5.