Here’s why cannabis matters.
Editor’s Note: fight for racial equity. We are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting the voices and experiences of African-American leaders in the cannabis space and who are part our family.
The stunning debut episode of HBO’s The Watchmen series, which aired last fall, portrayed the massacre of Black Wall Street, a real-life wave of white-on-black violence and murder that destroyed Tulsa’s prosperous black community in 1921. Before the massacre, a dollar would circulate between 36 to 100 times between black-owned businesses. And in a state with only two airports, six black families owned private planes.
What does this have to do with Black History Month and cannabis? Over the course of American history, economic justice has been a key component of every black liberation movement — from the Underground Railroad to the Black Panthers Movement to Black Lives Matter. These movements were not just about the abolition of slavery or segregation or discrimination — they were also about economic justice and creating institutional resources for black people.
As Dr. King observed, “America is reaping the harvest of hate and shame planted through generations of educational denial, political disenfranchisement, and economic exploitation of its black population.” This oppression has been present throughout American history, from slavery to Tulsa to today’s cannabis industry.
This is why we hear, over and over in the cannabis community, the vital importance of social equity. The War on Drugs was systemic and enforced the racially-based oppression of black and brown people; so it is only right and just that the “green rush” helps these communities recover.
Black Americans are only 12% of the U.S. population but are four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis. And, today, 80% of all businesses are owned by white men. Why? Probably the biggest barrier is a lack of access to capital, which creates a choke point for capable equity cannabis entrepreneurs who otherwise have the talent and desire to engage in the legal marketplace. In other words, the old power dynamics are still very much present post-prohibition. In California, it was only recently that legislators have taken serious measures to expunge the records of people who were charged with marijuana-related crimes.
This is why we’ve worked very hard on programs like Momentum and our partnership with Code For America in an effort to place equity and corrective justice on the table. As California’s largest marketplace for legal cannabis, We are uniquely positioned to make a huge impact on the lives and livelihoods of equity entrepreneurs — and we take that responsibility and privilege very seriously.
But as a community & with policy makers, we have to do more to ensure this industry is built in a fair and equitable way. Some work has been done, but there is more to do to ensure this industry is built in a fair and equitable way. For instance, local, state and federal regulators have the power to: prioritize equity applicants, keep the process for approval short, and minimize undue financial burdens.
Working together, we can make these things a reality. But it will take time, and persistence, to undo the damage history has done.