Robert Lundahl

Adam Francis

Cannabis and Social Justice

Freedom from fear and persecution is at the heart of cannabis activism.

By Robert Lundahl

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What we think of as “The Cannabis Industry” commands a great deal of attention in its own right. The rapid policy movement toward legalization across North America has changed the landscape. As many are aware, the landscape that existed in cannabis related policy, criminal justice, social equity, and opportunity had been in need of change since the “reefer madness” era of the thirties.

The purpose of this post is to help focus attention on the statistical inequities, in order to educate people on their ability to lobby for that change and also to highlight (in this series to come) the relationship between the agents of change in marijuana policy–non-profits like NORML, High Times Magazine, the ACLU, Sons and Daughters United, The Hood Incubator, and others. These organizations have provided leadership in remanding for justice and against unnecessary or unwise persecution of individuals or in many cases, entire communities.

It may seem daunting at times to “get the facts” on the new industry now supplanting the internet, as the forefront, game changing, social and economic disruptor of our times.

However it is also true that a wide range of research and publication now frames cannabis in the context of social justice, and in our own state of California, we can review such publicly available and thought provoking research as “The Colors of Cannabis: Race and Marijuana” by Steven W. Bender, in the UC Davis Law Review.

In his introduction, Bender states, “Both media and law reviews concentrated their analysis on the interplay between the continued federal prohibition of marijuana, whether for medical or recreational use, and the onset of legalization or decriminalization of marijuana at state and local levels.”

Indeed, as many experts point out, it is this gap which accounts for uneven and and some might say, nonsensical laws and applications of those laws, that impact communities inequitably by race. Bender’s review makes the point that it has always been race, above other factors, that guided the institution of anti-marijuana laws…

The publishers, legal support organizations, social advocacy non–profits, and others listed above, including High Times allied Pride Media and LGBTX media including The Advocate and Out magazines ally as “spiritual cousins” of individual rights and freedoms for subjects of targeting and profiling.

At its core, Bender’s report exposes institutional and governmental biases, in may cases based on incomplete or assumed conclusions.

“Marijuana criminalization, as with cocaine and opiates, stemmed from racialized perceptions of users of color as threatening public safety and welfare. (Cited 5) In the case of marijuana, racial prejudice against both African Americans and Mexicans merged to prompt states and local governments to outlaw usage. In states with significant Mexican populations, such as Texas, Mexican prejudice was the catalyst for prohibition.

As contended on the floor of the Texas Senate in the early 1900s, “[a]ll Mexicans are crazy, and this [marijuana] is what makes them crazy.” (Cited 6).

In Southern states with large black populations, fears of violent black smokers led to marijuana laws. (Cited 7).

Bender footnotes a statistic of 872,721 state and local marijuana possession arrests in 2007). More recent statistics are the estimated 700,993 arrests in 2014, with 88% of those for possession. As well noted are, “FBI Reports Annual Marijuana Arrests in U.S. Increased Last Year for the First Time Since 2009.” (Sept. 28, 2015).

The American Civil Liberties Union report, “The War on Marijuana In Black and White” (2013) concluded: “[O]n average, a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small Black populations. Indeed, in over 96% of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2% of the residents are Black, Blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession.”

NORML’s fact sheet, Racial Disparity In Marijuana Arrests, states a 2017 analysis of New York City arrest data found that Blacks and Latinos comprised 86 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession violations during the years 2014 to 2016.

Statistics like these not only shock, but give call for “Restorative Justice,” as John Gettman’s article in High Times Magazine explains.

“Restorative justice aims to make up for past harms done to those arrested for nonviolent marijuana-related crimes.”

America’s War on Drugs has failed and worse, has disproportionately affected minority communities. Marijuana use is roughly equal across races nationwide, yet Black people are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. Now that cannabis is a thriving $8 billion legal industry, Black people make up less than 5% of founders and business owners.

Growing the market for cannabis related products is no longer skin–tone dependent. That’s why Oakland-based nonprofit organization The Hood Incubator, partnered with Eaze, a leading cannabis technology company headquartered across the Bay in San Francisco. This partnership is the first step in Eaze’s commitment to giving $1M in funding over the next three years towards social equity efforts.

As part of this historic partnership, Eaze will play an instrumental role in advancing The Hood Incubator’s vision to create a healthy ecosystem of industry access, resources, and support that benefits, rather than harms, Black and Brown communities.

Sons and Daughters United takes a different perspective on social justice, related to discrimination by age, both young and old. Here state/federal legal disparities present themselves at their most ominous. With ten thousand juveniles separated from their families through the policies of  the immigration system, the impacts of “stroke of the pen” policy decisions on real people becomes sadly visible and undeniable.

Similarly, common sense family decisions related to cannabis/CBD use by juveniles or elders can be the cause also of policy driven family separations, discrimination and trauma. 

Freedom from fear and persecution is at the heart of cannabis activism.