A Note to Governor, Mayor and Legislators on Cannabis Equity

The recent debate over limiting cultivation licenses for cannabis in Illinois being pushed by current cultivators is enough to make me sick. The issue? Rich white men who invested in cultivation of medical marijuana won’t be able to make all the money they projected if other licenses are allowed. In other words cannabis equity (allowing more licenses no matter the reason) may not provide them a quick return on investment. Oh pleeeeese!!! Brother can you spare me a million?. That’s how the investment game goes. It’s often a crap shoot. What is patently unfair is how few minority people get to even sit at the table. 

This is Black History month and I would like to remind the Governor, the Lt. Governor and everyone else involved in decision making as to how Illinois rolls out adult use of the history of black people in this country.

Remember that little thing called slavery that built this country? Remember all the businesses and industries that sprang from the backs, sweat and blood of slaves? I hope that is taken into consideration. If not, cannabis will be another industry built on our oppression and misery that excludes us from benefitting. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr expressed in  his famous speech at the march on Washington for jobs, “One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. . . . In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check . . . that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.” We, black people have not received any form of reparations and now years after that famous speech, this country is debating if even a nod at leveling the playing field is discriminating against white people. We are not falling for that and the we includes white, brown, black and others who have a conscious thought.

Maybe our city and state leaders ought to have a conversation with New York Mayor de Blasio. He endorsed the safe and fair legalization of cannabis in New York. He released his Task Force report on Cannabis Legalization, which calls for a strong, public health-focused regulatory framework and the empowerment of local government to prevent corporate greed, foster small businesses and meet the demands of New York City communities. The report also places great emphasis on the need to ensure that any marijuana industry in New York City right the wrongs of the past and promotes economic opportunity. He recently stated “I have been convinced that we can establish a regulatory framework that keeps our streets safe, rights the wrongs of the past, and gives economic opportunity to communities hit hardest by the war on drugs.” He echoed this sentiment recently on the Bill Maher show. Maher shot back asking if de Blasio would prevent white ownership. De Blasio quickly responded that was not the intent. What the New York task force report suggested was that incubator services be put in place to assist minority participation. I think we need to go even farther.

It is no news that minorities are incarcerated more than whites even though cannabis usage is almost identical. According to the ACLU’s original analysis, marijuana arrests now account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States. Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana. Nationwide, the arrest data revealed one consistent trend: significant racial bias. Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.

California is trying to promote cannabis equity. Several cities have instituted pot equity programs and non-equity partner arrangements. For example, cities such as Oakland have created incubator programs that pair an established marijuana company, called a non-equity business, with an equity cannabis business — run by an entrepreneur whose background might otherwise make it hard to get into the pot industry. Sacramento plans to waive up to tens of thousands of dollars in application and permit fees for eligible cannabis businesses.


In a Huffington Post article California Cities Struggle To Help Minorities Build Marijuana Businesses, it was noted that in a 2017 report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified nearly 650 collateral impacts for people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, including limited opportunities for certain professional licenses, education and government assistance. Governor Jerry Brown signed into legislation a bill that requires the state Department of Justice to identify and send non violent cannabis convictions to county district attorneys to clear or re-sentence.

Are any of these programs perfect? Of course not but Illinois should be looking at all of the options to level the playing field and protecting the investments of white corporate entities and their investors is not one of them.

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