Why We Can’t Wait: Being Black in the Cannabis Industry

By Cesar Casamayor and Gidai Maaza

There is unfinished business when it comes to cannabis legalization—the trauma-filled legacy of the War on Drugs within the Black community, especially on young Black men. While the cannabis industry was being built on the back of Black communities, it was also criminalizing them. And now they are in jeopardy of being left behind as the cannabis industry moves from Prohibition to Gold Rush.

Wealthy investors are poised to legally make billions doing the same thing that generations of Black Americans have been arrested and locked up for. As a community, we cannot allow the cannabis industry to pass us by.

War on Drugs

It is time to repair and undo the harm the War on Drugs inflicted. We need to create real pathways within the cannabis industry for Black Fresno to thrive economically. Rep. Barbara Lee (D–Oakland) was recently quoted as asking, “Who’s in prison? Who’s in jail? Whose lives have been shattered by marijuana convictions?”

Many different communities of color bear the impact of the discriminatory enforcement of drug laws, and none greater than African Americans. According to The Sentencing Project 2017 annual report, “Today, people of color make up 37% of the U.S. population but 67% of the prison population. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men.”

The harsh impacts of economic loss and imprisonment have made deep cuts into the heart of our community for generations.

Reparations

Social equity is the beginning of repairing the impact our communities have experienced through mass incarceration, addiction, isolation and the breakdown of the family. So what is social equity? What role does social equity play within the cannabis industry?

Before leaving office, former Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1294 into law. The bill recognizes the impact of the War on Drugs and moves toward providing concrete support for communities of color as the legal cannabis industry emerges.   

What does support look like? Per AB 1294, the plan “ensures that persons most harmed by cannabis criminalization and poverty be offered assistance to enter the multibillion-dollar industry as entrepreneurs or as employees with high-quality, well-paying jobs.”

Economic Development

It is time to move from imagining a different community to advocating implementation of a real economic development strategy by way of the cannabis industry. Legalization of cannabis has opened the door for mass revenue on local and state levels.

Various estimates statewide run the economic gains into the tens of millions for cities where legalization is occurring. We need to view this movement from Prohibition to Gold Rush as an opportunity that will improve the social and economic well-being of Fresno’s Black community.

Next Chapter

Where do we go from here? We acknowledge legalization of cannabis in Fresno has happened. We acknowledge the inaccurate story of cannabis and how it has been used to socially and economically isolate Fresno’s Black community. We acknowledge now is the time to retell the failed War on Drugs as one of the victories within Fresno’s emerging cannabis industry.

Economic, racial and social justice are achievable, and now is the time to demand our rightful place within Fresno’s legalized cannabis industry.

We ask our city officials to create a healthy social equity model that minimizes barriers to cannabis licensing for Black Fresno. We ask our city officials to create real pathways for Black Fresno to enter the legal cannabis industry. We ask our city officials to reinvest tax dollars generated from the cannabis industry into supporting entrepreneurship opportunities, job creation and small business development, including legal roles within the marijuana industry.

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Fresno residents Cesar Casamayor and Gidai Maaza are co-founders of the Fresno People’s Dispensary, an affiliate of the National People’s Dispensary based in Oakland. The organization’s equity principles have improved and informed those adopted by municipalities across the state and nation. Follow them on IG @MyTPD.FRES.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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