Black Lives Matter: The New Jim Crow of Legal Cannabis
Black Lives Matter: The New Jim Crow of Legal Cannabis
Legal Weed’s New Jim Crow — Healing Communities
History rhymes like a four letter word.
Let’s break out our history books — turn to the letter F. The early days of Mary Jane prohibition will make you swear like Popeye.
Crack open the early 20th Century, when cannabis was demonized as an insidious substance because of a growing fear of Mexican immigrants, who brought it over fleeing the Mexican Revolution. That’s where the term “marijuana” actually comes from — an Anglicized version of what Mexicans called “mariguana”. It supposedly spurred a “lust for blood,” especially in the “mongrel races.”
When Harry J. Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in the ‘30s, lit the fuse that set the war on weed on fire, racism was his matchstick made in heaven.
Anslinger claimed that cannabis was used primarily by “degenerate races,” particularly African Americans. It caused violence, insanity, and worse — made “darkies think they’re as good as white men” — or Heaven forbid, Mildred, want to have sex with blondes.
And, according to the 1930s propaganda flick “Reefer Madness,” it gave innocent white gentlemen the insane ability to play jazz piano like a Dixieland freight train.
It’s a racist stock script that works every time — purchased off iStock with the watermark wiped clean. First they start with Mexicans, then they move onto Black people.
Sound familiar? “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Politically speaking these days, Black lives matter as blue lives pack stadium coliseums, screaming sloppy spittle unmasked, waving fists out of a Pink Floyd dystopia.
Legalize It Already
Fast forward to Right Now: Marijuana’s legal in 11 states for recreational creation — with 3 up to bat to vote, 6 waiting in the wings — and in 34 states (plus Washington D.C.) for medicinal hospitality. 2020 may be one messed up ookie gookie cookie, but at least legal cannabis is a $52 billion industry and counting.
Now that marijuana’s becoming legalized, all that racism just flies out the window — like stinky Purple Haze in a bright blue Thunderbird blazing 90 down the 101, right?
Yep — sounds about white.
Actually, more than 700,000 people are still arrested every year for cannabis (43% of all drug busts) — and Black Americans are arrested 4x more than whites, despite similar usage rates. In fact, 2018 actually saw more marijuana arrests than 2015, according to the ACLU.
Black lives matter — especially when it comes to restitution and healing the racist wrongs of cannabis prohibition and the modern police state. 40 acres and a mule is long overdue.
Jim Crow in a Fresh New Suit
As marijuana becomes more and more legal, racism in cannabis arrests remains broadly the same. Since 2010, the increasing number of states legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana “has not reduced national trends in racial disparities,” according to a recent report by the ACLU. Indeed in some states, Black people are 6 to 10 times more likely to be arrested for simple weed possession, despite the fact that white dudes on swim teams toke up at roughly the same rate.
Meanwhile in the legal weed market, all that racism trickles down to the New Age of the Jim Crow budtender.
Legal ganja’s a multi-billion industry, yet Black folks barely own the proverbial shake, stems, and seeds of legal marijuana operations. In 2017, Black entrepreneurs made up roughly 4.3% of cannabis business owners — white people 81%, according to Marijuana Business Daily. It’s like Jim Crow slapping Dumbo on the back — so Disney you barely notice.
Just as banks refused to lend to Blacks 50 years ago, VCs turn a blind eye to African American cannabis entrepreneurs. The world of venture capital is perpetually sexist and racist: a smoky back room of white guys smoking cigars who fill up ashtrays and call for more scotch. Black women raise only 0.0006% of all VC funding — compared to 2.2% for women overall, according to Project Diane, a study by social enterprise DigitalUndivided.
And since most banks won’t finance ganja operations because it remains federally illegal, Blacks striving for a break in the multi-billion dollar legal cannabis market are too cash broke to get a leg up. They’re like that dude in Hell with hay bales of weed, not a lighter in sight.
The roadblocks are as sky high as the ganja on a Colorado mountainside: Black folks are arrested in greater numbers and do more prison time for the same crimes, yet many states ban cannabis licenship to felons. In California, felons are banned for three years from getting a cannabis license — in Colorado, it’s 10. Nevada requires anyone working in the cannabis industry to have a background check. Even those convicted of “excluded felony offense” in Nevada are banned from cannabis work. And that’s just for working behind the sales counter or watering cute baby pot plants, much less owning the company.
And while some states have taken the due diligence to expunge the records of cannabis arrests, most have not.
“Most markets were started by purposely keeping out people who have prior convictions with marijuana,” Dasheeda Dawson, a cannabis activist and author of the workbook How to Succeed in the Cannabis Industry, told Mashable. “And as you know, Black people are almost four times as likely on average to be arrested for cannabis possession.”
Black Lives Matter — The Devastation of Black Communities
It’s no secret that politicians from Nixon to Reagan to Clinton and on have used marijuana prohibition laws as a barbed wire billy club against Black people. “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be… Black,” so drug laws were weaponized against the African American community, admitted John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s former domestic policy advisor.
And the effects have been devastating. Billions have been blown locking up Black and Brown folks — money that could otherwise have been invested in Black communities to ease the scourge of injustice. And the personal cost from even minor arrests can be significant and linger for years. Simple misdemeanor arrests for weed can affect access to public housing, the ability to maintain a driver’s license to get to work, the right to your own children.
Just selling small amounts to support your own use can throw you in jail for decades. Iraq veteran Derek Harris was resentenced to life in prison for selling .69 grams of weed to an undercover agent under Louisiana’s Habitual Offender Law, which allows judges to impose stricter sentences on someone who’s been charged before. He served 9 years before being released after the Louisiana Supreme Court granted him a new hearing this year — nearly a decade for ⅙ of ⅛: barely a pinner of a joint.
Greener Together: Cannabis & BLM
Legal weed has created an unprecedented number of jobs — nearly 300,000 legal full time gigs in 2019 alone, according to a report from Leafly.
Why not hire from the very communities this drug war’s hurt the most? Expunge marijuana records. Inject VC money into the startups of Black cannabis entrepreneurs. Empower more African Americans not to just run the sales counter, but the company itself.
Some states have stepped up to the plate. New Jersey’s considering a bill that mandates 25% of all legal cannabis licenses be set aside for people of color. Black legislators in New York plan to boycott any legislation that doesn’t redirect a portion of marijuana legalization profits to communities of color. Massachusetts has included a number of social equity programs in their efforts to legalize.
Companies have too. Kush Queen, which makes CBD and THC bath bombs, pledges $5 from every $12.99 bath bomb in its Pride collection to BYP100, an organization of young Black activists that focuses on community mobilizing, according to Mashable. The weed delivery service Emjay rounds every purchase up to the nearest dollar and donates the difference to organizations fighting racial inequality. Eaze, a delivery service in California, funds an accelerator program for minority founders in the cannabis industry.
As more and more states legalize marijuana, they rake in hundreds of millions in tax revenue hand over fist. In just 2018, Washington scored $319 million, California $300 million, and Colorado $266 million.
That’s nearly a billion dollars — serious bank. Sure, break off a chunk of that cash hash brick for math, science, and Dick & Janes so kids can be the future we need them to be. Hell, buy a politician a speedboat if you really must pay the Piper. But with close to a billion in brand new tax moolah, can we honestly not afford to rebuild the very Black communities this racist drug war has devastated in its wake?
It’s a brand new day. Legal marijuana has opened up new jobs and opportunity with unprecedented possibility. As we march in the streets demanding that cops stop killing our Black brothers and sisters because Black lives matter, let’s also work to heal the families, communities and lives that have been torn apart by the racism of prohibition.
Pass the weed; share the love. Black lives matter — we’re all in this together.
A freelance writer for hire, Matt Gallagher is the face and voice behind Web Copy Magician. He enjoys Bear Blend as a tea to spiritually reconnect with nature and the therapeutic wonders of chlorophyll.
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