The California Minority Alliance (CMA) recently held a seminar titled “Coming Out Of The Shadows In The Cannabis Industry After Proposition M” at the Veterans Memorial Complex in Culver City. They discussed how people of color can take advantage of business opportunities in the newly legal medical and recreational marijuana industry.
The fact that the auditorium was filled to capacity is an indicator of the public’s interest to hear from the distinguished panelists.
The panel included Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles), former State Senator Isadore Hall who now serves as a Commissioner on the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, Andrew Westall, assistant chief deputy to Council President Herb Wesson, attorney Cat Packer of the Drug Policy Alliance and CMA co-founders, Donnie Anderson and Virgil Grant. The forum was moderated by Darren Parker, assistant to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.
Last year, Proposition 64 made it legal for individuals over 21 years old to use or grow recreational marijuana. Proposition M gives the Los Angeles City Council comprehensive oversight over commercial cannabis. That includes permits, licensing, taxation transportation and land use regulations. Proposition M is expected to bring in tens of millions of dolloars for Los Angeles next year.
CMA was the driving force to win advocacy and funding to place Proposition M on the March election ballot. Formed in 2016, CMA was conceived to look out for the interests of people of color in the rapidly expanding marijuana industry. To understand the significance of this, one must understand the historical legacy, linking race to the war on drugs.
The racial bias for arrests are staggering.
According to studies conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union, marijuana accounts for more than half of all drug arrests in the United States.
Marijuana use among Whites and African Americans is roughly equal, yet Blacks are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.
The CMA’s mission is to provide education, economic opportunities and awareness that will guide people into the avenues of medical and recreational marijuana. At the core of their mission is social equity, correcting the years of unfair incarceration by creating avenues for greater access to business opportunities into the multimillion dollar industry and changing negative perceptions of it within the minority community.
The threat of “Negro cocaine fiends” was conjured up to enact 1914’s Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, and proponents like Harry J. Anslinger (head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics) extended the collective panic to the “devil weed” marijuana, proclaiming that “… reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as White men (current Maine governor Paul LePage has made similar remarks, about Blacks and Hispanics coming from out of state to peddle drugs on his home turf).”
Working to counter this ominous legacy continuing today with the ill-fated “War on Drugs,” CMA aims to ensure that minorities, overwhelmingly imprisoned in the wake of the draconian legal penalties imposed on low level offenders, will not be excluded from the potentially lucrative profits coming with decriminalizing and commercialization.
Anderson points to the possible medicinal benefits from these emerging products, citing the therapeutic relief experienced by his grandfather after he overcame the older man’s inhibition to the devil weed.
Among those in attendance was Desert Storm veteran Samuel Josiah Hunt II, who had used marijuana therapeutically since he sustained a knee injury in 1988. Never injured in combat, he none-the-less sustained a concussion from a baseball bat assault by a fellow soldier, which left him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He credits marijuana with weaning him off of liquid morphine, and other organic and synthetic pain killers prescribed by the military. Hunt avoided detection by random urinalyses by flooding his system with water.
“Marijuana has actually saved my life,” Hunt claims, citing the kidney and liver failure experienced by long term opiate users.
A past owner of a dispensary in Washington State, he hopes to open another locally, especially for veterans.
A successful player in multiple media ventures (executive at MCA/Universal Records, manager for Snoop Dogg, voice-overs in video games), Donnie Anderson hopes to provide an economically viable entity for members of his community. Towards that end, he stresses three major components for those interested in involvement in this rapidly growing enterprise: 1) education; 2) empowerment; and 3) engagement.
Cat Packer spoke about the importance of acknowledging the impact drug laws have had on lower income and minority neighborhoods, a condition that still exists.
“In 2015, Blacks were two times more likely to be arrested for a marijuana misdemeanor, and five times more likely to be arrested for a marijuana felony,” she notes.
The cycle of damage does not end there. Once arrested and convicted, Blacks have been labeled “criminals,” impeding their access to education, housing, and other essential services.
“How do we repair the damage?” she asks.
With the passage of Proposition 64 in November 2016, the path has been cleared for people to have cases reclassified or rescinded. On top of this, however, she stresses the need for economic opportunities specifically for low income and minority communities. Currently, out of the 3,800 cannabis dispensaries operated nationwide, one percent are minority owned.
In preparation for Jan. 1, 2018, when the state starts licensing cannabis dispensaries, Packer hopes to raise the collective consciousness to equip the community with resources that will allow them access to this potential windfall.
“We are going to be locked out-and locked up,” she says, summing up the alternative.