Black lives in the cannabis industry

Let's take a look at how cannabis and black lives intertwine and what needs to change. 

The Black Lives Matter movement is the center of conversations right now with the focus to eradicate racism in all aspects of everyday life.

As people look to educate themselves on racism and economic injustice against people of colour, it’s important to understand and recognise how the black population has been affected by cannabis laws and the cannabis industry.

While cannabis laws have taken a step in the right direction with an increasing number of countries legalising the medicinal use of cannabis, over the last decade, racial disparities upon illegal cannabis possession have still been shown to exist.

And while the legal cannabis (CBD) market has skyrocketed in value, black entrepreneurs, particularly in the US, are losing out.

African lady holding a jar of legal cannabis.

Racial disparity in cannabis arrests

A report published in June 2013 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found cannabis use to be roughly equal among blacks and whites, yet blacks were 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession.

A more up to date 2020 analysis by the ACLU concluded: “Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, notwithstanding comparable usage rates.”

The authors reported: “In every single state, black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some states, Black people were up to six, eight, or almost ten times more likely to be arrested.

“In 31 states, racial disparities were actually larger in 2018 than they were in 2010.”

But even in states where cannabis is legal for recreational use, such as Colorado, arrest rates have dropped much faster for white people than other communities.

Another contentious issue is whether someone convicted in a state where cannabis is now legal for recreational use should be released.

America is one of 22 nations that doesn’t guarantee “retroactive ameliorative relief”, which is a term used for relaxing sentences given for offences that are no longer crimes.

And then there’s the issue of coloured people being granted less favourable release options and more expensive bails than white defendants.

A 2011 study of bail in five large US counties found blacks received $7,000 higher bail than whites for violent crimes, $13,000 higher for drug crimes and $10,000 higher for crimes related to public order.

These disparities were calculated after adjusting for the seriousness of the crime, criminal history along with other variables.

How are black entrepreneurs being affected?

Sam Levin brought to light the issue earlier this year in an article for The Guardian.

The LA-based journalist revealed black merchants who were affected by the war on drugs are being denied licenses when it comes to selling cannabis.

For those unfamiliar with the legislation, the war on drugs was enacted by the United States government with the intention to reduce the production, distraction and use of illicit drugs.

But the war on drugs led to controversial legislation and policies, including mandatory minimum penalties and stop-and-frisk searches which have been suggested to be carried out disproportionately against minorities.

LA’s social equity program set out to help those affected by cannabis criminalisation.

On its website it states: “The City of Los Angeles is one of the few jurisdictions in the United States attempting to address the impacts of past cannabis policies and their inequities by developing and implementing cannabis policies that seek to center equity in cannabis policy reform.

“The Social Equity Program (SEP) is one tool the City of Los Angeles is using to begin to acknowledge and repair the harm caused by the War on Drugs and the disparate enforcement of cannabis prohibition.

“The goal of the Social Equity Program is, ‘to promote equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry in order to decrease disparities in life outcomes for marginalized communities, and to address the disproportionate impacts of the War on Drugs in those communities’.”

But black entrepreneurs and activists across the Sunshine State said the programme has left aspiring business owners on an indefinite waiting list, “causing potentially irreparable damage to their families’ finances and preventing them from opening marijuana shops they have been planning for years”.

Levin wrote: “Fewer than 20 of the 100 businesses on track to receive a license through the program appear to be black-owned, according to estimates from advocates, who say the community most disproportionately targeted by marijuana arrests is again facing discrimination. And even some of those applicants now face precarious futures.

“Meanwhile, the existing LA industry is thriving – with many white business owners at the helm.”

Just to put into perspective, a report from Prohibition Partners published in January forecasts the UK legal cannabis market to reach £2.31 billion by 2024.

New Frontier Data estimates the market for CBD derived from help will grow from a $390 million-dollar market in 2018 to a $1.3 billion market by 2022.

While there’s still so much to be done to fight the war on drugs and racism, it’s our duty to look back at the history and to understand why these injustices have come about, to be informed on statistics and to do all we can to help bring about change, whether that be donating to memorial or bail funds, signing petitions or supporting the work of people of colour. 


Black lives in the cannabis industry

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