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Beyond the Smoke: Why decriminalizing cannabis must happen now

"An equitable industry is one that includes the Blacks and Latinx people, whose culture laid the foundation for cannabis legalization" -Imani Dawson

Originally posted The Grio June 27, 2019

The cannabis industry’s glaring issues with inclusion, community support, and decriminalization are not just on the national level, but state and local as well.

llinois is making headlines for its recent legislation that not only legalizes adult use of cannabis, but also directly addresses economic inequality for communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the “War on Drugs.” That government-sponsored “war” ravaged primarily Black and brown neighborhoods, sending large swaths of people to prison.  Illinois’ more comprehensive approach to cannabis legalization that goes beyond just legitimizing sales, could serve as a blueprint for other state and local municipalities.

Given the current White House administration, it is unlikely decriminalization will happen on a national level anytime soon.

Below, Jacob Plowden (Cannabis Cultural Association Co-Founder/Deputy Director), Chaney Turner, The People’s Dispensary Co-Founder),  Imani Dawson (Cannabis Education Advocacy Symposium & Expo Executive Director), and Ashaki Fenderson (Tainted Love BK Co-Founder) offer deeper insight into what is happening with cannabis across the country, why decriminalization is of the utmost importance and how a truly equitable cannabis industry would function.

Mary Pryor: What can people expect federally if community reinvestment and equity are missing from state bills? 

Imani Dawson: Without provisions for equity and community reinvestment, we’ll see more of what is already true about the industry, rich white men holding the vast majority of power and control. According to Marijuana Business Daily, 81 percent of cannabis executives are white, and 73 percent male. As the industry becomes more lucrative, they will continue to dominate, despite the fact that the modern cannabis movement was built and popularized by people of color. We have traditionally been locked out of venture capital funding and the cost of starting and sustaining a cannabis business is prohibitive for very few of us. Equity ensures that small business entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to participate meaningfully in the industry and share in its profits. Community reinvestment means that those neighborhoods most harmed by prohibition and unequal enforcement by police get much needed money for education, job-training, after school and other programs.

Mary Pryor: What does an equitable cannabis industry look like given what’s missing in this industry?

Ashaki Fenderson: Historically, state government has often set the tone for federal legislation. We are seeing that right now with cannabis. If states continue to model poor equity policies and programming, federal legislation will likely follow. That does not allow space for legacy market participants, communities decimated by the war on drugs and entrepreneurs with unfair limitations to capital and resources. These people will be blocked from participating in one of this country’s most lucrative industries.

Imani Dawson: An equitable industry is one that includes the Blacks and Latinx people, whose culture laid the foundation for cannabis legalization, through music and the arts. We made cannabis mainstream and sustained demand through the extralegal market. Our communities deserve a significant piece of the billions already being generated. We need seed capital, education about the plant and training on business fundamentals to create pathways to prosperity in the cannabis industry.

Read the entire article on The Grio

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