This is the age of luxury weed, and yet people with previous criminal convictions for marijuana possession or sale are still horribly disenfranchised, fighting to clear their records even in states where recreational marijuana is legal. Their fights are in stark contrast to the majority of those benefiting from the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana. One group is battling to clear their name, while another is enjoying the benefits of cannabis in comfortably-appointed smoking lounges.
A recent think-piece published by Quartz author Jenni Avins argues that “the legal cannabis industry is in danger of becoming one more chapter in a long American tradition of disenfranchising people of color.”
Regulations in many states, and on the federal level with the 2018 Farm Bill, prohibit those with criminal convictions from working in the cannabis industry. These people are disproportionately likely to be black and poor because of widespread bias built into the criminal justice system. It’s well established that the ‘War on Drugs’ was designed to undermine minority black communities and disrupt the political left. Over the last sixty years, the war on drugs unfairly targeted black and disenfranchised communities.
In 1994, John Ehrlichman, domestic advisor to US president Richard Nixon, told reporter Dan Baum “You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Yes, the hippy culture was full of privileged white baby boomer children breaking away from the clutches of their parents, the intimidatingly titled ‘Greatest Generation’ for its bravery in both world wars, but the hippies were also inclusive of everybody else, and the prohibition of marijuana impacted minority communities hard. And that’s just the beginning of a systematic disenfranchisement that has reached deep into modern cannabis society. Although some states are seeking to expunge the criminal records of those with marijuana convictions, it isn’t happening fast enough says Avins.
Avins argues that instead of continuing to disenfranchise those hurt by the war on drugs, they should be the first to benefit from the so-called ‘Green Boom’ that is coming with cannabis legalization. “The US’s legal weed explosion is an incredible story of de-stigmatization, entrepreneurship, and opportunity. It’s also at risk of becoming a staggering tale of hypocrisy, greed, and erasure. But as a deep-pocketed industry with political momentum, American cannabis is uniquely positioned to serve as a model for what racial reparations could look like.” Avins says.
Adam Vine, the founder of Cage Free Cannabis, an organization that pushes for “drug war reparations,” says “This is about harnessing the industry to embody the work of repair. Otherwise, legalization is just theft.” The reparations Vine is arguing for include expungement of criminal records, job fairs, voter registration, health care, and social equity programs.
The word “reparations” has long had a financial connotation, but even though Avins uses many examples to justify her case, she argues that financial reparations for the drug war are just not feasible. Instead, she uses multiple case studies where reparation-like programs are taking place to make her case for the assistance of the disenfranchised. For example, “in cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland, policy-makers are developing social equity programs to do just that, by awarding business licenses to selected applicants and holding workshops to help people navigate the bureaucracy,” says Avins.
She also points to a cannabis company, Eaze, which partners with organizations and gives its employees time off to volunteer to help those disenfranchised by cannabis’ mixed history. Eaze’s lawyers have offered expungement clinics, for example, helping those with cannabis convictions clear their records. The company also financially sponsors efforts to help the disenfranchised.
Finally, consumers themselves can get involved in making sure the ‘Green Boom’ benefits everyone, Avins says. Many cannabis companies and consumers today just aren’t that interested though. “There’s a feeling or a sentiment that I, industry person, didn’t do anything wrong,” Vincent M. Southerland, a former public defender and NAACP lawyer who runs NYU’s Center for Race, Inequality, and the Law, told Quartz. “‘I didn’t create these laws, I didn’t put anybody in jail, I’m just profiting off of everything now.’ I think that same sentiment is what you hear when people talk about, ‘I didn’t build this segregated community, I didn’t build all these segregated schools, I’m just—my kids are getting a better education because of them now because they’re in these wealthy school districts.’”
“Having the industry own this problem, it could in some ways foster an attitude on the part of consumers that someone else is already taking care of that problem or that concern,” Southerland said. “Participating in the political process is really probably the most important thing that the everyday consumer can do to try to change that dynamic.”
It’s an article well worth reading in full, and we at PotNetwork encourage you to do so and to consider the important topic for yourself.