Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Marijuana legalization used to right wrongs from drug war

PORTLAND, Oregon Oct 14 (NWN) – Nearly a decade after the first states approved recreational cannabis, correcting the mistakes of the war on drugs, including making businesses accessible to minorities, is driving adoption across the country.

A wave of recent legalizations in the Midwest and East Coast have made social justice a key component of their new regulatory framework. Western states that have previously legalized the drug are also following suit.

These efforts are aimed at reinvesting minority communities affected by the war on drugs. These include eliminating marijuana-related offenses and ditching grants and licenses to give these communities a foothold in a crowded industry that has experienced green rush in 18 states that have legalized drugs.

Supporters say these efforts are needed to help minority entrepreneurs overcome the barriers to licenses, capital and technical assistance that keep them from entering legal cannabis markets. Tahir Johnson, director of social justice and inclusion for the marijuana policy project, compared a number of programs to small labs figuring out what works.

“None of them are perfect, but they keep getting better and better,” he said.

These programs should create opportunities for those previously involved in what he calls the “legacy market,” Johnson said. These people developed methods of growing marijuana and selling the drug when it was illegal, laying the foundation for a legal market that was estimated at $ 12.4 billion as of 2019.

But, according to him, they are blocked due to criminal records and lack of funds for startups. They are also disproportionately black and brown. A 2020 ACLU report found that black people are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites on marijuana charges, despite having roughly the same drug use.

Racist legacy

There is no authoritative source for information on which part of the industry is owned by minorities. But a study by Marijuana Business Daily found that 19% of respondents who own at least some cannabis are minorities. BuzzFeed News estimates that 1% of dispensaries are owned by blacks.

Johnson and other advocates say cannabis social justice programs are needed to counter the racist legacy of the war on drugs.

In 2017, the Oakland, California City Council adopted the nation’s first cannabis equity program. It deferred half of all permits for “equity seekers,” residents who received less than 80% of the city’s median income, lived in an area hit by the drug war, or were convicted of a cannabis-related crime.

Alfonso “Taki” Blunt Jr. opened Blunts And Moore in 2018 after receiving the city’s first shareholding permit. Blunt said the store has eight employees and sells between $ 5,000 and $ 7,000 cannabis daily. But Blunt can remember times when it seemed out of reach.

Blunt said hemp was present in domino games, Thanksgiving and other occasions as he grew up in the 1980s and 90s. He first realized he wanted to open a marijuana store when he took his grandmother with him on business in 1999. After picking up her medications from a building on Telegraph Avenue in downtown, she returned with a white bag. There was medical marijuana inside.

Over the next years, he worked in dispensaries in the Bay Area, growing cannabis and selling it on the street. But opening your own dispensary was out of reach.

“Then I was told that blacks would not have pharmacies, and I didn’t even wonder why,” he said.

Data from the city of Oakland show that blacks and Hispanics account for up to 90% of cannabis-related arrests, despite each representing about a quarter of the city’s population, respectively. White people accounted for 4% of arrests. In 2005, Blunt was arrested for selling cannabis.

Realizing that he met the requirements, Blunt applied for an equity license. But the number of licenses was limited, and the city used a lottery to determine who got them. He remembered a city official taking numbered bingo balls out of his cell to determine which applicant would not receive a license.

As a result, Blunt’s numbered ball remained. His dream has come true. He shouted. He exclaimed. He praised God.

“It’s over there with my kids,” he said. “It’s not better, but it’s up there.”

Pursuit of justice

When Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law the cannabis legalization law in 2019, he called it “the most equity-oriented” of its kind at the national level. The new law created a program of “Social Justice Seekers” and awarded grants to help businesses get started. But the licensing process did not lead to the emergence of minority-owned businesses.

Massachusetts has also included a social justice component in its legalization law. But 73% of active owners, employees, managers and volunteers of cannabis establishments are white, according to MassLive.

Jannette Ward Horton, executive director of the NuLeaf project, said Illinois has demonstrated that equity programs must carefully analyze company ownership to see who benefits. The more important issue, she said, is access to capital.

According to the Federal Reserve’s Consumer Finance Study, minorities have less personal wealth than whites. The lack of start-up capital puts minority entrepreneurs at a disadvantage, especially when trying to enter the capital-intensive cannabis industry, she said. Bank loans are mostly unavailable because cannabis is still banned at the federal level.

“It’s about capital,” she said. “The more money you have, the more successful your business will be.”

NuLeaf was selected in 2018 for Portland’s cannabis business development equity program. Funded by the cannabis sales tax, the NuLeaf project has provided 25 grants and loans to minority entrepreneurs working in the cannabis industry, Ward Horton said.

According to her, the size of the award usually ranges from 10 to 25 thousand dollars, but up to 200 thousand dollars. The money could be used for marketing, moving to less expensive properties, or covering expensive administrative fees, she said. NuLeaf does not use collateral or credit scores to evaluate applications because they end up becoming a barrier to underprivileged entrepreneurs.

Ward Horton and Johnson said they watch New Jersey and New York as they roll out their programs. Johnson said New Jersey does not place restrictions on businesses, which he says gives small businesses a better chance against multinationals. It also includes rules to protect small players from predatory contracts.

The New York City program allocates 40% of the expected $ 360 million in annual cannabis tax revenue to a wide range of social spending. Half of the state’s licenses will be awarded to equity applicants.

Johnson said these programs will be successful when victims of the war on drugs can freely participate in the industry and rise to leadership positions and ownership.

Blunt said equity seekers suddenly thrown into an expensive and hyper-competitive industry need more education. But even that, he said, was not enough.

“I’m not going to say that this will compensate for something, because so many lives were lost due to imprisonment,” he said. Instead, people like him, who were imprisoned for cannabis, should be in the room where the laws are written.

Nation World News Desk
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