Fight the Power Series Part 1: Cannabis Consumers Have the Power

During this four-part series, join Marijuana Matters as we discuss using our resources as cannabis consumers and advocates to promote social equity. This is part one.

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Photo courtest of @cannaclusive

Chances are you’re reading this because the path the regulated cannabis industry is on doesn’t sit well with you, and you want to do something about it.

Marijuana industry leaders can thank Black and Brown communities — communities targeted by the war on drugs — for cannabis’ popularity today, but more often than not, they don’t. Instead of ensuring that these communities benefit from the legislative and social shifts promoting weed, the cannabis industry and government have mostly ignored the drug war’s harms.

Lanese Martin and Ebele Ifedigbo, co-founders and co-executive directors of the Hood Incubator noticed this emerging pattern while studying for their M.B.A.s and organizing around cannabis legalization and social equity.

“I realized that unlike the folks that Ebele and I were going to school with who were like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna launch a startup in the cannabis industry,’ the folks that I worked with who were actively selling didn’t really see a place for themselves in the regulated market,” Lanese said.

“When I first started seeing cannabis being legalized around the country, I was just kind of thrown back by who the ‘face of cannabis’ is and how the conversation immediately jumped to this talk of business startups without addressing anything about how it was only on the backs of mostly Black and Brown communities that cannabis could even be legalized,” Ebele added.

“And now that it’s legalized, it’s like folks have amnesia.”

Between the massive hurdles of corporate greed and structural racism, what can you do to rectify that apparent memory lapse? According to Lanese and Ebele, a lot more than you may realize.

Cannabis Justice Now

If You Have Power to Legalize Weed, You Have Power to Restore Communities

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The power of the cannabis community is growing, and, according to Lanese, the evidence is clear: weed is legal for medical and recreational use in 12 states and exclusively legal for medical use in 28 states. Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota have adult-use cannabis legalization on the 2020 ballot, as do South Dakota and Mississippi — Mississippi, y’all — for medical marijuana. That is evidence of the cannabis community’s power. However, the disturbing lack of social equity mandates in cannabis laws demonstrates that the real problem is the cannabis community’s unawareness of how to use their power.

“A lot of folks in the cannabis community have been beaten down for so long by the system and as a result took on an identity as an outlaw or other,” Lanese said.

“Because the cannabis community has been othered, they haven’t fully grasped that they now have power and have been wielding it. It’s time to update our identity and how we see ourselves in the greater community and start wielding our power for something greater than just the ability to be allowed to buy and smoke weed.”

Lanese’s point evokes the scene of a chronic pain patient telling a doctor they’ll be fine if they can get more pain medicine. It’s important to treat the pain, but the pain problem won’t go away just by managing the symptoms. Similarly, it’s important to legalize cannabis and promote diversity, but the harms caused by the drug war and a lack of representation won’t disappear just because cannabis is legalized.

That’s why even in states where cannabis is legal, Black people are disproportionately arrested for pot possession and why a disproportionate majority of cannabis business is owned by white men. It’s also why Black people are disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 and other poor health outcomes. The drug war created poverty in communities of color, so until that harm and the structural racism at the root of it is addressed, the data isn’t likely to significantly improve.

“What we’re saying is maybe with the cannabis community’s newfound power we can say, ‘Hey, thanks for letting me smoke weed, and can we also restore the communities harmed by drug war enforcement?” Lanese said.

The cannabis community has a unique opportunity to leverage the regulated industry to afford Black people equitable access to wealth, health, political power, and prosperity for their families and communities. This Cannabis Justice movement, as the Hood Incubator calls it, is possible today because of the nationwide shift away from cannabis prohibition, a shift powered by consumers and advocates just like you.

“It’s the same access, the same type of power that you have to be allowed to smoke weed, that you can exercise to restore Black communities impacted negatively by the enforcement of the drug war,” Lanese said.

Use Your Power to Normalize Social Equity in the Cannabis Industry and Our Communities

Using your power to promote social equity can actually be much simpler than it sounds, and chances are that you’re already doing it. Here are five resources already at your disposal:

  • Your vote: Don’t just vote for the candidate who wants to legalize cannabis. At this point, most candidates do. Vote for the candidate who wants to use cannabis legalization to repair the communities harmed by the criminalization of cannabis.
  • Your money: If you have the money to donate to a legalize cannabis campaign, you probably have the funds to support a campaign or non-profit (such as the Hood Incubator or Marijuana Matters) devoted to fighting for social equity. Many such organizations exist, and they can all use your help.
  • Your position: You may find yourself in a room where decisions regarding cannabis legislation are being made, or you may work with someone in one of those rooms. Whatever position you’re in, you have the power to use networking opportunities to illuminate the relationship between structural racism, the drug war, and the disproportionate lack of Black ownership of the cannabis industry (and most industries in America).
  • Your skills: Whether you’re a lobbyist, graphic designer, DJ, social media strategist, writer, programmer, spoken word performer, hip hop artist, or administrative genius, your talent can be useful to the cause of social equity. If this work matters to you, give it your work.
  • Your influence: Today more than ever, you are surrounded by a community of people. You have the power to use that influence to make positive or negative change. You can share on social media, start the conversation in your church group or family get together, or become a community organizer. Whatever you choose, let it be a step away from complacency.

When we surround ourselves with like-minded people, rant about the system’s unfairness, and then conduct business as usual, we’re focusing on the power we don’t have. This is an invitation to do something about the social inequities caused by cannabis prohibition with the power we do have. Lanese said it best:

“Stoners can be the ones leading the way in social justice. They laughed at us when we used to be outside the state capitals. They used to not return our calls. But now they know our names. We’re just getting started.”

Marijuana Matters is a non-profit centering those disadvantaged by the criminalization of marijuana. M2 identifies and eliminates barriers to economic opportunity in the regulated cannabis industry through advocacy, entrepreneurship, and education. Support our work.

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