On Ending Cannabis Prohibition
Why are there so few people of color in the cannabis industry? Since some would argue Blacks and Latinos use cannabis disproportionately more when compared to whites, it would stand to reason this imbalance would be witnessed when engaging with people within the industry, but it’s not. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
There are more than 3,600 cannabis dispensaries and related companies throughout the U.S., and of that total, less than 40 areBlack owned – approximately one percent. How could this be, particularly, if we interact with cannabis as much as some say? Some may believe it’s due to Nixon’s “war on drug” which began in the 70’s, but the vilification of cannabis and connecting it to Blacks and Latinos began four decades earlier.
Harry Anslinger was the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics giving him the distinction of being the first drug czar of the U.S. He began the “Reefer Madness” campaign which claimed cannabis “makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him.” To further the paranoia surrounding cannabis, Anslinger connected cannabis to Blacks and Latinos. Anslinger deliberately used the Mexican name for cannabis marihuana connecting the plant to Mexican immigrants. He further prayed on white fears about Blacks with statements like, “Colored students at the University of Minnesota partying with (white) female students, smoking (marijuana) and getting their sympathy with stories of racial persecution. Result: “pregnancy and two Negros took a girl 14 years old and kept her for two days under the influence of hemp. Upon recovery she was found to be suffering from syphilis.” And this was just the beginning. Fast forward to the 70’s when Richard Nixon declared the War On Drugs which gave law enforcement permission to patrol Black communities – among others – disproportionately more than white communities in hopes of finding would-be felons.
The impacts of this so called war on drugs and its effects within the Black community are persistent as we continue to realize Black incarceration rates for cannabis possession is up to 10 times greater than that of whites. And despite the legality of cannabis in several states and evidence that they are less likely to use cannabis, Black teens are cited for illegal cannabis use six times more often than white teens.
All of these statistics are used in various ways to discourage the use and legalization of cannabis, and particularly to discourage the participation of people of color from working within the industry. We need to combat these statistics with a greater presence within dispensaries and other cannabis related companies. We need to have real conversations about the legitimacy of a career in the industry, whether that is in the area of finance, marketing, or sales. The more normalized the conversation about cannabis becomes, the greater the possibilities to participate in an economic sector from which we’ve been excluded.
And we are not blowing smoke...
Editor’s note: Londell Jackson has been a Simply Pure dispensary budologist, patient, and connoisseur. At Blowing Smoke, we feel it is time to show a variety of opinions from people of color.