3 Meaningful Ways The Cannabis Industry Can Support Black Lives Matter
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I am the son of Haitian immigrants, a United States Navy veteran, a husband and father, and the Co-Founder and CPO of a cannabis wellness company. I consider myself a patriot and I love this country. I am also no stranger to racism. As the Black Lives Matter movement has boldly brought to light long-standing, deep-rooted, systemic racism in our country, I’ve noticed my anxiety has markedly increased. I’ve been scared to drive on public roads and I’m apprehensive about speaking up against signs of hate for fear of repercussions and retaliation that would affect both me and my family.
I believe that racism, inequality, and injustice hold us back from reaching our full potential as a nation. And while I don’t have all the answers, I do know that more needs to be done. It is time we address the larger structures that reinforce racial inequality in the United States. For those of us in the cannabis industry, our own challenging history of facing marginalization, challenging the status quo, and risk-taking in the name of freedom, can be an asset and guide for this important endeavor toward equality. Here are three ways forward.
1. End the destructive war on drugs
When I first started out in cannabis, a popular saying was, “the worst thing you can do with marijuana is get caught with it.” Anyone who dared to consume and/or distribute cannabis prior to legalization knows all too well the many and varied consequences one could face. But the fear, rhetoric, intimidation, and disproportionate criminalization of Black people that took hold during the War on Drugs continues now despite the legalization of cannabis in many states.
According to the ACLU, Black people are still 3.6 times more likely than white people to get arrested and incarcerated for possession of cannabis, despite similar usage rates. In spite of legalization, we are still seeing the same extreme racial disparities in “marijuana” arrests and incarcerations today as we have over the last 63 years. Clearly, legalization is not the end of prohibition, but it is a great first step. There are many more we need to take to fully de-stigmatize cannabis, allow safe access for all, and effectively address racial disparities in our extraordinary industry and beyond.
It is our responsibility to encourage companies to partner with organizations that work towards the expungement of criminal records for non-violent drug offenders and we need to hire people with non-violent “marijuana” charges. Black Americans arrested with cannabis can face extreme, life-altering jail sentences. Fortunately, a growing number of organizations are dedicated to addressing this issue. For example, The Last Prisoner Project, which Papa & Barkley fervently supports, operates with the goal of freeing people from serving decades-long jail sentences for non-violent drug charges. This organization helps people like Parker Coleman, who is currently serving a 60-year sentence for a “marijuana” conspiracy charge despite no evidence of direct involvement or violence of any kind. Unless he receives clemency, Parker will be in his 80s when he is released – and he is only one of many.
2. End a legacy of inequality
As we have moved towards becoming a legal industry over the last two decades, few people of color have occupied leadership roles in cannabis. This is especially ironic given the fact that people of color have consistently paid the highest price for usage, possession, and distribution of cannabis as we moved toward our current reality. In fact, while people of color have paid a disproportionate price on the long road to safe access, predominantly White folks are benefitting from cannabis legalization.
As we continue to create this extraordinary industry from the ground up, and as our companies grow, we cannot allow people of color to continue to be marginalized. To do so would set us up to follow the same structures of inequality that exist in other industries. Rather, with a mindset focused on change and responsibility, we can cultivate the cannabis industry as one rooted in equality.
We can do so by encouraging cannabis companies to check their biases and be diligent about inviting people of color to the hiring table. We can also ensure that more people of color are qualified for cannabis industry jobs by generating and funding scholarships, especially for those who have lost their college scholarships due to non-violent drug charges. We can support cannabis education classes in community colleges and recruit people of color for degree programs.
3. Let our voices be heard
Of course, broad, lasting change around inequality needs to happen at the societal level, and we need to do our part by putting our votes and our money where our mouths are. In order to move forward, we must vote for representatives who are committed to re-allocating funds to social services and bolstering opportunities for education in low-income areas.
We must also truly look at how policing needs to change in this country. In the cannabis industry, we are inherently connected to the issue of incarceration of individuals with nonviolent “marijuana” convictions. It is essential to the very spirit of our industry that we advocate for criminal reform that includes addressing systemic racism in our justice system, releasing non-violent “marijuana” offenders, and expunging their records.
As cannabis continues to move toward more wide-spread legalization and safe access through a rapidly growing industry we must also spend our dollars with intent. We have an opportunity to shape this industry as it grows. If you are an investor, invest in Black-owned cannabis companies. If you are a cannabis consumer, purchase from Black-owned dispensaries and cannabis companies.
We have an ethical responsibility not to look the other way, but rather to act meaningfully and do the work necessary to create systemic change. This is not a moment; this is a movement – and we have the opportunity and obligation to create real change that will benefit us all.