Racism in Cannabis Industry: How POC Have Been Discriminated Throughout The Years

The current state of the American government escalates week by week and is only going to continue to unravel. With all the shameful involvement with racial discrimination many celebrities, companies, and entire industries have, the widely beloved cannabis market is no exception.

The majority of the planet marches the streets while protesting against police brutality and the corrupt political system, and we at The Collective Cannabis have taken a necessary step back in order to do proper, thorough research in order find the most effective ways to contribute to Black Lives Matter both online and more importantly, the real world. One aspect about the BLM movement that has caught a significant amount of attention to members of the cannabis community is how representation of POC within the weed industry is so slim, even a blind person could see how fucked up it is.

So…How Did This “Start?” with The War on Drugs. The reasons behind why weed was made illegal were pre-existing issues, though.

It’s common knowledge that poc have been unjustly punished for decades by cannabis prohibition laws, but have you ever wondered why weed was made illegal in the first place? A plant used for THOUSANDS of years suddenly a crime to posses. How do you get society to agree with or even want the illegalization to happen in the first place? Through the media, of course. In 1936, some racist-ass movie titled Reefer Madness came out, which was about some bs like “innocent teenagers being lured by marijuana cigarettes” and as fictional as it was, it managed the plant the seed in gullible, prejudiced minds. Coincidently, a year later, weed was banned nation-wide.

No, the movie alone wasn’t the only nail in the coffin, but an example of a tool that was used to get society on board with the fear around smoking weed. Along with countless distribution of false information where cannabis was the cause of violent crimes, mental insanity, even causing “white women to sleep with African Americans,” as if the racist agenda wasn’t obvious enough. In result, it was evident that the majority of society was stupid enough to believe it due their deep trust in the media and government. Sound familiar?

Real quotes from Harry Anslinger, head of the DEA from 1930-1962

For decades, Black communities have been targeted by the war on drugs, and are still racially profiled even while participating in the legal cannabis industry.

And guess what? You can’t work in the cannabis industry for having a record…because of weed. It’s hypocrisy at it’s best considering the charges are based off a plant that is now legal. Between the years 2001-2010, right before the cannabis industry really took off with legalization, there were over 8 MILLION arrests for cannabis, one arrest every 37 fucking seconds. The literal definition of over-policing, and it’s not a coincidence.

Graphic via ACLU website

Think about any charges associated with weed. Whether it’s growing, distributing, or possessing it. Somehow, just those actions alone merited putting a person in a cage, taking their children from them, and essentially labeling them as a “felon” for the rest of their lives. Now..let’s fast forward to present-day 2020 where cannabis sales are considered essential to that same government.

Imagine having to sit there and be told that your previous marijuana possession charge for something as stupid as “pot brownies” are what’s holding you back from really breaking into the industry, while companies like Barney’s New York are offering “premium cannabis edibles,” VICELAND releases shows like Bong Appetit, Netflix releases Cooking on High, and suddenly edibles are no big fucking deal in mainstream culture, but the people who did the same exact thing are still dealing with bullshit consequences. The system was set up this way for inequality and still is.

Remember that big “green rush” when everyone you knew wanted to move to a legal state and work on a weed farm?

Yeah, that came with plenty of racial inequality too.

An article on Blackentreprise shares how Black farmers have been getting shut out just as much as potential entrepreneurs are. Take Florida, for example. Governor Rick Scott signed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, which allows nurseries to grow and distribute weed to patients who suffer from severe medical issues. But how the law really screwed people over is that that those who actually qualify for licensing must have “operated as a registered plant nursery in Florida for 30 consecutive years”

But wait, hold the fuck on… that is a criterion that many, if not all, black farmers in the state can’t meet. Farmers of color say they’ve been hampered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s past discriminatory practices that have made it difficult for them to thrive in the industry.

“There weren’t that many black farmers 30 years ago in the nursery business,” says Howard Gunn, Jr, the president of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association. He made several statements on FOX News. “Because of that, we weren’t able to produce as much or be as profitable as other farmers. If we found one Black farmer growing that many plants, it would be surprising.”

Even the individuals with big success stories express that the discrimination within the cannabis industry is extremely problematic.

According to this BuzzFeed News article published in 2016, “Based on more than 150 interviews with dispensary owners, industry insiders, and salespeople who interact with a lot of pot shops, it appears that fewer than three dozen of the 3,200 to 3,600 storefront marijuana dispensaries in the United States are owned by black people — about 1%.” According to MJBizDaily a year later, the total black owned businesses increased to 4.3%. Compare this to a 70-80% dominant white market, and if that isn’t corruption, we don’t know what is.

Take Shanel Lindsay, for example. She is the founder of Ardent Cannabis, which was launched in 2015. It’s a biotech and medical cannabis company based in Boston, and they created a really cool device that makes easy, no-mess, no-smell cannabutter/oil out of flower, kief, or concentrates. They call it the NOVA Decarboxylator.

Shanel Lindsay with her NOVA Decarboxylator on the cover of Marijuana Venture

So… the NOVA Decarboxylator. Ok, nice. – what is that, though? “Decarboxylating” weed means heating it by using a process that activates more dormant cannabinoids, getting you the most benefits possible out of your cannabutter/oil, plus makes the processes cooking with cannabis at home way easier.

According to Lindsay, one of the toughest challenges that she faced when launching Ardent was getting the funding, and expressed that her race played major role. “It was very difficult as a woman of color who was bringing a new technology that not even investors understood,” said Lindsay. “It was nearly impossible to raise money. I had the benefit of looking internally and raising money from friends and family; and if I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t have made it.”

Along with being a boss bitch “ganjapreneur,” Miss Shanel Lindsay is also a lawyer! She was instrumental in helping write the law governing Massachusetts’ recreational cannabis. It wasn’t until she got arrested in 2009 for weed possession that she found her legal career in jeopardy, despite the fact that cannabis was decriminalized in Massachusetts when it happened, and she’s shared her experience as a statistical target.

Lindsay has made several statements on the issue of racial discrimination within the industry. “You have a segment of people who have been over-policed and over-punished for cannabis,” she says, “then you have legalization moving in with a framework that only allows access and participation by the very wealthy and voila! A recipe for zero diversity and continued disenfranchisement of people of color.”

“Cannabis money should be primarily directed at fixing these generational harms. The businesses which are reaping the rewards know the money is directly tied to the oppression of Black and brown people. The only reason cannabis is valuable…is because it’s restricted.”

— Shanel Lindsay

The media continues to play a major role on the lack of proper representation for POC in the world of legal weed.

Movies, TV, and of course, social media.

According to Mehka King, the podcast host of “Cash, Color, Cannabis.” and filmmaker working on a movie about minorities and cannabis, the thing hindering people of color from getting into the cannabis industry after working in the shadows for so long has “more to do with media than anything else.”

“When you read magazines or watch shows, where the subject is white, it’s a story of success in an industry, the triumphs over medical problems where the plant was the only cure or the housewife who realized she could make money without actually touching the plant. With most media outlets in cannabis and outside being run by white men overall, it will be hard to see a real portrayal of a consumer of color,” he adds.

Don’t even get us fucking started on influencer culture. It’s a major ongoing problem.

An issue that will only continue unless we hold big publications accountable for no proper representation of poc. A recent example was displayed on May 28, 2020, when HighTimes released a “women influcners in weed” article that listed five influencers, all who which were white. When people pointed out the obvious “in your face” lack of diversity, the well-known magazine went as low as accusing people of starting drama, and saying that they don’t consider most women of color “as influencers” because they aren’t at the caliber of Wiz and Snoop. This is our “top” weed magazine you guys. What the fuck.

When did it suddenly become “the norm” to launch young girls who were already racially and financially privleged further into clout stardom, while not ONE women of color receives any form of recognition because they didn’t “command attention” as much as…famous rappers? How does that even make sense?

We’re not here to pull out very instance of big platforms not doing their part in minimizing dissemination, because we’d probably lose our shit since unfortunately there are no shortage of examples. People should know and do better by now, because we’re constantly creating the future of cannabis.

On a brighter note, the progress in combating this corrupted system is increasing!

Aaron Barfield & Peter Manning. Members of Black Excellence In Cannabis

This photo was taken during one of many peaceful protests in Washington that involved suing the state for the racial discrimination that caused limited opportunity for poc in the workplace, weather its obtaining a license to cultivate or for starting a business. Plenty other legal states such as Maryland and Florida have faced lawsuits for the same reason.

“I hope more POC will leap into cannabis so we can have a stronger voice,” Shanel Lindsay states. The non-profit she co-founded Equitable Opportunities Now (EON), has been making sure that equity provisions are implemented into cannabis legislation, plus provides free legal support to people of color who want to participate in the cannabis industry.

HighTimes, also has a top 100 Most Influential People in Cannabis. Out of the entire list there are only 4…yes, 4 African-Americans on the list who weren’t previously famous before the weed game, such as musicians, actors, and NBA players. Counting the famous people, there are 11 total Black influencers. Out of 100 people…We can’t be the only ones who see something wrong here.

We MUST end inequality before more legalization. If not, we’re not doing our part at all.

The cannabis industry shouldn’t keep growing until the gross racial inequities and injustices that have come to define it are corrected. Especially while people remain incarcerated for cannabis offenses that are no longer illegal and are forced to suffer needlessly and lose opportunities unjustly.

We at The Collective believe in equal opportunity in the workplace, and in favor of those who dominate the weed game speaking out on the racial discrimination that still exists in the industry we all know and love. Do not assume your job is done by reading, but sharing. Spreading awareness both online and offline is what will push society in the right direction. Enough is enough.

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