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How the War on Drugs Lead to Oppression In the Cannabis Industry

April 16, 2019 | Faye Lessler

Cannabis is a powerful plant that can provide healing in so many ways. We count ourselves lucky to be able to work with CBD and to share the wonders of cannabis with our customers – but it is a privilege. We never take our access to working with cannabis for granted, because not everyone has the same ability to do what we do with this potent plant.

As the legal cannabis and CBD industries have boomed across the United States, there are some people who have been systematically left out of the profits. The decades-long War on Drugs has seen a disproportionate number of Black and Latino people incarcerated due to cannabis-related crimes, and now those people are being barred from owning legal cannabis businesses and from bringing the plant’s numerous healing benefits to their communities.

In order to advocate for better access to cannabis for everyone, it’s important to recognize the fraught history of the plant and its use as a device to oppress Black and brown people in the United States starting as early as the 1930’s. Before then, cannabis had been widely used throughout history, but when immigrants fleeing the Mexican Revolution crossed the border, the US government rebranded cannabis with their term for the plant. As a result, “marijuana” became a hard drug synonymous with immigrants, crime, and delinquency.

Despite the fact that cannabis is consumed equally by both groups, a Black person is 3.5 times more likely on average to be convicted of a felony for cannabis-related crimes than a white person.

It is well documented that when President Richard Nixon made cannabis illegal in the 1970’s, his motives were to further the racial stigma around the plant. This move made it easier to arrest and prosecute the hippies and people of color who so vocally questioned his presidency. The ensuing War on Drugs has resulted in countless arrests of mostly Black and Latino men for small crimes such as smoking a joint or possessing small amounts of weed. Despite the fact that cannabis is consumed equally by both groups in this country, a Black person is 3.5 times more likely on average to be convicted of a felony for cannabis-related crimes than a white person. In some areas, a Black person is 10-15 times more likely, whereas there is nowhere in this country where a white person is more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession (statistics sourced from the ACLU).

Cannabis is now legal for recreational sale in 11 states and Washington DC, and it is available for medicinal use in 33 states. Yet, we have not seen justice for the Black and brown people who have suffered in jail for crimes that are no longer illegal. In fact, they continue to be marginalized and harmed by the ongoing war on drugs. In every state where cannabis is legal for recreational use, there are stipulations in the laws that prevent those with a federal offense on their record from owning or working for a cannabis business. The 2018 Farm Bill even prohibits federal offenders from farming hemp (which contains less than .3% of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC) in the US, actively taking financial opportunities and job security away from people of color across the country.

As prospective Black cannabis entrepreneurs are kept out of the Green Rush, their communities will continue to suffer the disproportionate consequences. Especially while we are in this gray-area of legalization, many communities of color and low-income areas will continue to endure “broken windows” style policing that places young people behind bars for possession. Instead of allowing Black-owned businesses to set up shop and serve their communities legally, the industry is leaving them behind in favor of white male owners instead.

The cannabis industry is worth $900 million and growing

History has brought us to where we are today. The cannabis industry is worth $900 million and growing, based entirely on a plant that is legal in 11 states and which may soon be legal across the nation. When consumed correctly, cannabis has been proven to be effectively harmless and potentially beneficial for everyone, no matter their skin color, age, gender, or income level. So why shouldn’t it be accessible for everyone, too?

After seeing the success & disparity brought on by legalization in the states, some national politicians are beginning to agree with this sentiment, too. New Jersey Senator Corey Booker has introduced a national law titled the Marijuana Justice Act, which would expunge the records of everyone in the US who has ever been convicted of a minor cannabis-related crime. Some states have already begun this process, with San Francisco county leading the way in California. In New York State, where cannabis is on the verge of being made legal for recreational sales, State Assembly Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes has demanded that the records of convicted felons with cannabis-related crimes below a certain level of possession be universally sealed or expunged upon legalization.

The racial disparity within the cannabis industry has gained more attention as the industry has boomed, resulting in more activists and lawmakers considering the idea of reparations to communities of color who have been affected by the War on Drugs. Some have advocated for taxing states & counties with the highest rates of incarceration for small cannabis crimes. Many have spoken out in support for funds from the cannabis industry being funneled towards support for POC-owned cannabis startups, education programs in youth communities of color, and reintegration programs for previous felons.

The efforts to make the cannabis industry more equal will undoubtedly be debated on the national stage, and we are committed to fighting for them. While we continue to advocate for the benefits that cannabis and CBD can bring to people, we want to find new ways as a business, a community, and as individuals to make this industry more accessible to all, and especially for those who have been oppressed by the War on Drugs. When it comes to this plant that so many are now profiting from (including people who have played an active role in incarcerating people for it in the past), we think it is imperative that this conversation is had and that the history of racism in this industry is addressed.

If you’d like to learn more about this issue or have any suggestions for us, please keep in touch as we explore ways to advocate for equality and reform in the cannabis industry. We also encourage you to check out the following resources:

America’s Whites-Only Weed Boom (Buzzfeed)

The Fragility of Legalization (Bitch Media)

Does the Weed Industry Have A Race Problem? (YouTube)

The War on Marijuana in Black and White (ACLU report published in 2013)

Word on the Tree (This publication sends out a daily newsletter on all things pertaining to hem & cannabis legalization as well as reparations & the war on drugs)

Clear my Record California (This is an excellent resource for anyone in California who needs help expunging cannabis related crimes from their records)

Clear my Record Oregon (This is an excellent resource for anyone in Oregon who needs help expunging cannabis related crimes from their records)

THC staffing group (This is an excellent resource for people of color looking for jobs in the cannabis industry, and for employers looking to hire diverse employers)

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