For marginalized communities and their allies, the trend of cannabis legalization is more than just a shifting mood. The dismantling of prohibitive cannabis laws is a matter of social justice. According to the ACLU, a cannabis-related crime was busted every 37 seconds between 2001 and 2010. That means that every 37 seconds, at least one person’s life was forever entangled by America’s broken criminal justice system. The enforcement of outdated cannabis prohibition costs taxpayers almost $4 billion a year, and there is no return on that staggering investment.

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In fact, the consequences of cannabis legislation have been damaging, and that is especially true for Blacks who are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for possession as whites even though the use of the drug between the races is quite comparable. This “law and order” approach to cannabis propped up by prohibitionists like Jeff Sessions for the past eight decades has created a legal quagmire that is racist, elitist, and medically stupid.

Laws Rooted in Ignorance

Cannabis laws have wrongfully put POC behind barsThough the use of the plant is just about equivalent among whites, cannabis has a long history in black and Hispanic communities. The narcotic use of the drug became assimilated into American sub-cultures along with the influx of Mexican immigrants who fled to the United States from the violent Mexican revolution in the early twentieth century. Mexican-immigrants were by and large treated as second-class citizens along with Blacks, who were at that point living under the dehumanizing segregation of Jim Crow.

Cannabis laws were a direct attempt to penalize Mexican-immigrants at first, and then Blacks later, for their existence in American society. That bigoted spirit remains today. Although cannabis has been legalized for recreational use in nine states and the District of Columbia and for medical use in 29 states, the laws remain stacked against people of color. As previously stated, Blacks are disproportionately targeted by cannabis laws. At the same time, convicted felons with drug-related offenses are blocked from becoming caregivers in medical states.  While they aren’t necessarily blocked from obtaining a medical card, their parole officers may override their rights to medicate since cannabis retains its federally illegal Schedule I designation.

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Additionally, many states prohibit ex-convicts, particularly those with drug convictions, from obtaining licenses to open cannabis-touching businesses. That means that a Black cannabis user caught for possessing cannabis that she used to medicate anxiety may not be able to obtain cannabis legally even if she lives in a medically legal state. It also means that a former Black cannabis dealer looking to enter the legal market may be relegated right back to the illegal one that got him arrested to begin with. Even when criminality is not an issue, advocacy for women and people of color should be a high priority industry-wide.

As in most businesses, the playing field is never level. White men tend to represent the majority of leadership roles in every industry, including cannabis. But the nascence of legal cannabis in a time when the voices of people of color and women are being heard more than ever creates an opportunity for the industry to spearhead a movement in which marginalized communities are empowered to lead along-side those who have traditionally exclusively held the most influential leadership roles.

Cannabis Organizations Serving Women and Minorities 

The following organizations are some of those that have recognized a critical need for intervention in the burgeoning industry before the tired trope of white, male dominance becomes the modus operandi yet again.

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Women Grow 

Women are dominating the cannabis marketThough the cannabis industry’s infrastructure is new enough to break under agitation and resilient enough to adapt to those changes, the old way of sexism has still crept into its institutions. Women are better represented in the cannabis industry than they are in others, but they still face the same threats: sexual harassment and objectification and the very annoying and powerful weapon of underestimation.

Women Grow, a network of women professionals in the cannabis industry, was founded in 2014 with the mission of connecting, inspiring, educating, and empowering women who aspire to be or are actively serving as business executives in the expanding industry. Women Grow is well-known for orchestrating an impressive variety of local, regional, and national networking events where women are afforded the opportunity to meet face to face.

Minority Cannabis Business Association 

Minorities are disproportionately punished for cannabisInstitutionalized racism has created a yawning gap between people of color and white people who enter the cannabis industry. Incarceration, poverty, and disparate education levels are all factors that disproportionately affect these communities and consequently make it more difficult for them to succeed in their entrepreneurial endeavors.

As the first not for profit business organization created to close this gap and promote diversity in the cannabis industry, the MCBA meets a critical need simple legalization measures cannot. MCBA works to develop a network of cannabis professionals representing an array of disciplines spanning the country, advocate for equitable regulations, increase accessibility of cannabis to marginalized communities, and serve those communities as a unified voice calling for more and fairer opportunities.

Sacramento Cannabis Equity Programs

The California city has recently approved a program that will help minorities, women, and veterans enter the cannabis industry. The program will connect prospective entrepreneurs with mentors as well as provide services including fee reductions and the expungement of criminal records. In addition to providing assistance to ex-convicts, the program will also create incentives for businesses that hire them as well as high school dropouts, the homeless, and former children of the foster care system.  Proponents of this new program understand that the best way to eliminate the black market is to create incentives for people to get out of it.

You Don’t Have to Like Pot to Advocate for It

There is a strong case for the advancement of cannabis legalization that compassionate people with or without an interest in consumption can get behind. Cannabis provides the medically ill with an alternative treatment that may be superior to traditional routes for financial and safety reasons. Moreover, the war on drugs has failed. It has failed to stop illicit cannabis use, it has failed children who have lost fathers and mothers to the prison system in droves, and it has failed to provide any effective rehabilitation for those who are truly battling addiction. It is the willful ignorance of these facts that has been a far more dangerous kind of intoxication than any a cannabis flower could produce.