How to include black communities in the legal cannabis industry?
Weed has become such a big part of today’s world that it is hard to ignore. It’s therefore obvious that when something is this huge, it’s bound to be tied to a loooot of issues. And the common problems people have with cannabis are known to most of us. However, there is one aspect of the cannabis industry that most people are not aware of.
The cannabis industry, like many others these days, has been guilty of oppressing black people. The number of black people put behind bars for possession of cannabis continues to rise fast. Furthermore, even though cannabis is now legalized in some states, black people still get arrested for marijuana possession more than white people do. To put it in numbers- black people are 3.65 times more likely to be arrested for possession. That might not seem like a big number, however, it’s unacceptable to ignore this because weed consumption is equal between white and black individuals. Legalization might be great for some, but it hasn’t put an end to black people being arrested significantly more often than white consumers. Many activists, doctors, and entrepreneurs urge the legal cannabis industry to focus on eliminating systemic racism in its field. Here are a few steps/suggestions on how that can be done:
The first step is compensating for the ‘war on drugs’. The unnecessary war on drugs started by Nixon in 1971 negatively affected many in the black and brown community. The project aimed to ‘end’ drugs but ended up costing a lot of years and money to realize. However, the negative aspects of this war still linger today: from mass-incarceration of black people for non-violent drug offenses to scarring the future of an entire community. The only way to amend this and introduce diversity in the legal cannabis sector is to lift restrictions on people who to this day are restrained by their criminal record consisting of marijuana possession.
The second action is to destroy the stigma of cannabis in the medical industry. Many may be unaware, but the word ‘marijuana’ holds some pretty racist roots to itself. Back in the 1920s (prohibition era), the word was used to stir xenophobia against Mexican farm laborers who were known to smoke cannabis. Henry Anslinger (US bureaucrat) was one of many who wanted to create a connection between cannabis and foreignness. He used the word marijuana and implied that only foreign people of color were involved with it, with its consequence being violence. “There are 100,00 total marijuana smokers in the US and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage,” were his exact words. Seems like this kind of talk wouldn’t fly today, right? This is when the anti-cannabis propaganda (including TV content) started. Many still remember this content and fear cannabis because of it. This includes doctors too. Most doctors are still skeptical about the use of marijuana, even though it has been federally approved in the treatment of PTSD, epilepsy, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Some people in medicine find it only reasonable that researchers ought to be able to safely study cannabis to prove its positive medical benefit. Besides, cannabis is currently considered a Schedule I drug (heroin is in the same category, btw), which makes a lot of practitioners unwilling to use it. Unfortunately, because of the torture installed in the black community as a result of the war on drugs, many black patients will also refuse to use prescribed cannabis.
The third crucial phase is to include black people in legal cannabis entrepreneurship. At the moment the cannabis industry is worth billions and white inclusion and ownership in the field is a little over 80%, whereas the black counterparts only represent 4.3% of the whole. A couple of factors play a role. The first one is the financial barrier. Most banks probably won’t agree to finance a business handling cannabis, because cannabis is still federally illegal. This means that if one wants to run a legal cannabis business, they’d have to provide the money themselves and fund it. This automatically excludes a lot of representatives from the black community who simply don’t have the financial means to start new business entrepreneurship. Another aspect that prevents black people from being a part of the legal cannabis business is the exclusive VC networks. Most of the VCs will probably only provide funding to entrepreneurs in their direct network. This, consequently, rules out marginalized communities’ representatives who unfortunately don’t possess money, connections, or an ivy league education. As these restrictions aren’t enough, one can’t acquire a license to work with cannabis if he/she has ever had a felony conviction for the possession of marijuana. (This, plus the fact that black people are convicted for possession at a significantly higher rate than white people, makes it virtually impossible for any of the black representatives to be included in the legal cannabis industry.)
The fourth stage is to diversify the industry through lobbying efforts. Naturally, when a whole industry faces a problem, it’s not just the owners of companies who struggle with diversity, it’s the whole field of legal cannabis. State officials and advocates claim that discussions about the overwhelming whiteness of the industry are vital. The whole industry needs to include people of color and employ them too. Activists insist that since the negative effects of the war on drugs, many black people find it difficult to arrange employment for themselves because of their prior criminal records.
The fifth measure would be to cap the price of legal CBD. CBD is one of the molecules found in cannabis and it’s not the one that gets you high. It’s good for your body. CBD has earned its place in a lot of households due to its proven benefits in many studies relating to sleep, anxiety, and PTSD. The issue is that CBD is marketed as a high-end product and its price reflects that. This makes CBD difficult to access by low-income communities. The profit made from CBD just goes towards the companies that end up doing nothing for those communities.
Many people hold this negative opinion when it comes to weed and that will probably never change. However, it can’t be denied that the positive effects that the plant brings are not to be carelessly ignored. The war or drugs did nothing but damage a whole community and cost billions. It’s now time to accept the change and ensure that we’re not further damaging the black individuals’ future by denying them another business opportunity based on nothing but history.
P.S. “President Nixon’s National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse concluded in 1972, after years of research, stated that ‘there is little proven danger of physical or psychological harm from experimental or intermittent use of natural preparations of cannabis.’ Despite the fact that it has been established in the hopes of finding fuel for just the opposite conclusion, the Commission recommended the decriminalization of marijuana for personal use. Nixon ignored the recommendation of the commission his administration had appointed.” (ACLU)