"Why are white men poised to get rich doing the same thing African-Americans have been going to prison for?" asks Jay Z (Shawn Carter) in an widely shared video for the Drug Policy Alliance in 2016 that is part history lesson about the war on drugs and part vision statement. At it's core, Jay Z openly invited us all to stand on the right side of history.
Yet, here we are three years on with 33 states legalizing medical marijuana and 10 more states having legalized recreational use, creating a $100 billion dollar juggernaut and people of color are still being incarcerated for cannabis possession and related crimes at disproportionate rates.
It's time to officially end the War on Marijuana. As we've reported previously, the aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws has a race problem and needlessly ensnares hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system and wastes billions of taxpayers’ dollars. What’s more, it is carried out with staggering racial bias.
The fact is marijuana use is roughly equal among people of color and whites, yet people of color are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. With incarceration rates like this it is easy to see why the ACLU recommends that until Federal legalization or depenalization is achieved, law enforcement agencies and district attorney offices should deprioritize enforcement of marijuana possession laws. In addition, police should end racial profiling and unconstitutional stop, frisk, and search practices, and no longer measure success and productivity by the number of arrests they make.
The racist hypocrisy is astounding when John Boehner, a former GOP leader from the political party that formally initiated the “war on drugs,” joined the advisory board of Acreage, a multi-billion dollar marijuana firm.
White Privilege & Black Disenfranchisement
Is it because of white privilege caucasians don't fear arrest, even when buying or consuming cannabis products illegally?
Is it because of white privilege caucasians haven't been affected by the illegality of using an illegal drug, nor of the violence of the ongoing War on Drugs?
Is it because of white privilege that nearly 90% of all the capital invested in this industry is distributed to white men?
Is it because of white privilege caucasians are free to talk about (dare we say glorify?) the benefits of marijuana on the news, in newspapers, on podcasts, in blogs and dabbing openly on instagram?
Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.
What we do know is that people of color have less access to investment for legal cannabis operations and are being cut out of this “green rush," while still being targeted by police for possession, even when white people use just as many cannabis products and openly consume and flaunt it.
We can't expect to fix the industry if we don't shine a light on the issues and talk about it, openly and bluntly in search of solutions.
There's also a lot you can do too to stand on the right side of history, like supporting legal and social justice organizations such as:
- Minority Cannabis Business Association
- Shaun King’s Real Justice PAC
- Drug Policy Alliance
- Cannabis Cultural Association
And, finally, for all that's wrong with the cannabis industry in its current form, there are trailblazers who are working hard to create equity and bring more people of color into the industry. Support them, buy from them, follow them on social media and spread their message.
We still have a lot of work to do in order to ensure that the Cannabis industry is inclusive.