How Black America Made Our Cannabis Industry Possible

Andrew Ward

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The history of cannabis in America is intrinsically tied to Black Americans.

The history of cannabis in America is intrinsically tied to Black Americans whose ancestors were brought to America and the Caribbean against their will. It's impossible to tell the story of how cannabis came to America without acknowledging the injustice brought against Black people then and continuing to today. While the history is unjust and tragic, Black Americans have also played an integral part in developing the cannabis industry--which is why so many advocates push for their inclusion in the growing legal markets. 

How cannabis came to America is disputed. Most believe that cannabis emerged in Central Asia, reaching parts of Africa by the 13th century. In time, the plant would be used in part of one of the world's most unconscionable acts: The Atlantic Slave trade. University of Kansas professor Barney Warf told The Stranger in 2018, cannabis was brought to the region by the Portuguese who used cannabis to pacify slaves during travels across the Atlantic Ocean. 

The practice led to the spread of the plant across the Americas.

Once cannabis made it to New Orleans and in the hands of freed Black Americans, it took off. The Jazz Era was in full swing, eventually spreading beyond the bayou and into the rest of the country, including Harlem in New York City. The popularity of the plant and its use by Black Americans was met with massive push back from racist regulators, like Harry J. Anslinger. Aslinger was the country's first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the main proponent of the race-based, fear-mongering propaganda about cannabis. Soon enough, global prohibition would set in. And in America, Black and Brown people would become the primary target, as cannabis served as a frequent tactic in predatory policing behavior and disproportionate arrest rates

The pains of the ongoing drug war remain as America continues to reform its laws. As reform gradually occurs, the cannabis industry must prioritize Black-owned cannabis businesses and inclusive hiring to help remedy some of the drug war's pains. Such pains include broken families, lives lost, careers taken away, and the loss of generational wealth for families. 

Today, many in the cannabis community are stepping up to ensure this occurs. 

Looking to do your part to correct these wrongs? Here is how you can support Black-owned cannabis businesses while fighting for those still tied up in America's prison system.  

Buy Black!

One of the best ways to ensure Black-owned cannabis businesses stay prosperous is by supporting them with your dollars. All too often, Black and minority entrepreneurs are not afforded the same access to financial services, leaving them more bootstrapped than most other startups. 

Shopping at Black-owned businesses paves the path to an equitable cannabis industry.

By buying from Black-owned dispensaries, retailers, growers, producers and ancillary brands, you can do your part in keeping the company well-funded. The continued support from customers helps close the racial wealth gap while providing local communities with a thriving business, which is not always the case in various underserved communities across America. In time, the company's growth should produce additional jobs and possibly a brand expansion beyond the local market. Once at this level, a Black-owned brand can begin to contend on a level that is all too often reserved for white men with more ample financial backing. 

Looking to shop consciously and buy from Black-owned ventures but don't know where to start? No worries! InclusiveBase by Cannaclusive is a one-stop source for finding various Black-owned cannabis businesses and services across the cannabis spectrum.

Support Equity Legislation in Newly Legalized Communities

Newly legalized communities provide massive opportunities for new business owners. Legislation must be carefully crafted to ensure those opportunities are available to all. Minority ownership can be increased and supported by ensuring that opening licensing rounds include rules that increase investment in communities that have been more deeply affected by the War on Drugs. 

For example, New Jersey voted to legalize recreational cannabis in the November election. The rules for the program will take many months to develop. During this process cannabis focused organizations are encouraging rule-makers to include strong equity efforts in the regulations. 

We can improve equity in the cannabis industry by telling Congress to include equity requirements in legalization efforts.

As private citizens, we can join this effort by calling our legislators and voicing our support. It only takes a few minutes to keep them on track. New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota, and Montana are the newest states to legalize, and countless cities and counties are creating rules to allow new businesses to open in their communities. 

We can create new opportunities in all of these places. 

Invest in Black Owned Cannabis Businesses

As mentioned above, Black businesses often don't receive the same type of financial support provided by banks and other traditional means. This is the case across all markets. Cannabis represents a particular struggle, as most banks won't deal with the industry at all, which decreases funding possibilities. 

An investment in a company demonstrates a commitment to engaging in social equity in the cannabis space.

Investors looking to do their part should consider Black-led cannabis brands. An investment in a company demonstrates a commitment to engaging in social equity in the cannabis space. Investors should consider going beyond the financial investment, endeavoring to support the owner if they need any business guidance or introductions in the space to advance the brand. 

Fight Mass Incarceration

Reform may be occurring across much of America. However, federal reform has yet to happen. Meanwhile, in many states, both legal and illegal, people continue to be arrested for cannabis. So much so that 2019 saw more arrests for cannabis than violent crimes in America. Simultaneously, the hypocrisy of people in prison for cannabis only heightens as many sit in jail in a state where cannabis is now legal. Yet, they remain locked away, prevented from succeeding in a legal market that would not be what it is today if not for illicit operators' efforts. 

The good news is that progress is underway on the state and federal levels. Record expungements, commutations and clemency are on the rise, with many securing a clear or revised record. Much of this progress is due to legalization campaigns that included equity requirements. These campaigns benefitted from immense community support. 

More Americans were arrested for cannabis in 2019 than for all violent crimes combined.

That said, the fight continues as thousands more currently sit in jail for a non-violent offense. Meanwhile, those released but still with a record continue to face uphill battles, often struggling to find work or funding for higher education. Depending on the state laws, they may be prevented from working in cannabis despite having the ideal experience. 

Groups like the Last Prisoner Project (LPP) are among the groups leading the charge to advance sentencing reform for all. Efforts by groups like LPP show that advocates in the cannabis community and beyond won't stop until every injustice has been corrected--the effort won't stop until every last prisoner is free. The group also stands up to fight against the disproportionate arrests that see minorities arrested at nearly four times the rate of a white person committing the same offense. 

Individuals and companies alike need to be involved in correcting these injustices for Black prisoners and anyone receiving an unfair circumstance due to the failed drug war. Nugg Club  is proud to partner with and donate resources to LPP to continue to stand up for the voiceless lost in the system.

Nugg Club is also calling on you to help. Please, if you can, donate to LPP. 

Another excellent idea is to help boost the spirits of the incarcerated. LPP's letter writing program allows you to connect with someone directly affected by the drug war, allowing you to understand their struggle and give them a voice.

Black History Is Year-Round

No culture can be adequately acknowledged within a month, especially a culture as substantial as Black America. Through generations of oppression, Black Americans continue to transcend hate and injustice to become leaders and prominent figures, often setting cultural revolutions in the process. Black people's contribution to the global cannabis movement cannot be understated, especially in the Americas. 

The entire cannabis community should support Black-owned cannabis businesses and efforts to address the injustice as much as possible. By remembering the history and supporting the current leaders, Black people should finally get their deserved recognition and ownership--not only in cannabis but the rest of the business world and beyond, just as everyone has always deserved. 

Andrew Ward

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