Should Felons Be Allowed In Legal Cannabis Industries?
There are many states who have legalized cannabis, either medicinally or recreationally, that outlaw felons from participating in the industry.
When states outlaw the participation of felons in their cannabis industries, it’s important to understand who exactly they are keeping out. In order to understand this, we need to look at some of the underlying trends of drug incarceration in America.
Cannabis has long been a vehicle to incarcerate citizens, specifically those that are black, brown and poor. Despite white Americans self-reporting drug use at a higher rate than African Americans and Latinos, the latter two communities bear the brunt of drug arrests.
According to a study done by the American Civil Liberties Union released in 2013, African Americans made up 14% of the U.S. population, but constituted more than 36% of all arrests for weed, mostly for possession charges.
A report by New Frontier Data and Drug Policy Alliance explored the incarceration rates for cannabis in California ahead of the Amendment 64 vote that legalized Adult Use.
The report notes,
“Only 8% of Los Angeles County residents are black, yet they make up 30% of people jailed for marijuana only offenses in the county. Comparatively, Latinos account for nearly half (49%) of the county’s population, but make up 42% of those jailed, and whites are 27% of the population, but make up 20% of the jailed population.”
So in a world where over half of the country has legalized medicinal or Adult Use cannabis, creating a multi-billion dollar industry, what happens to those incarcerated for the same plant? How do we include those who had their lives destroyed by cannabis prohibition into the new legal market?
Many states are starting to see the sense in providing some sort of reparation to those formerly incarcerated for a drug that is now legal, and making a lot of people rich, in their states. Massachusetts was the first state to include some sort of provision for those who have been affected most by cannabis prohibition and enforcement, making sure these people would be able to participate in their state’s new legal industry.
Other states followed suit. Ohio set aside 15 cannabis licenses for minority businesses in their law; Pennsylvania required cannabis license applicants to outline their process for including minorities in their businesses.
Some states are trying, but fall embarrassingly short of the mark. Maryland tried to pass a bill to ensure minorities were represented within their new legal industry, but that bill was not actually acted upon. Not a single minority applicant was granted one of their 15 licenses. Because of this, multiple lawsuits have been filed against the Maryland Medicinal Cannabis Commission (MMCC), and former police chief and member of the MMCC, Harry Robshaw III, is being accused of exercising “overt racism” in the selection process.
Cities within states outlawing felons have also decided to act.
Oakland, a city in California historically overly-targeted by the War On Drugs, is working to make sure those who were jailed for cannabis are included in California’s new industry. Oakland has guaranteed half of their city’s cannabis licenses will be “Equity Licenses” reserved for those who have been convicted of a marijuana charge.
The damage done, and still being done, by the War On Drugs is no secret. Instead of declining, we have only seen drug use zoom upwards. Instead of rehabilitating drug addicts, we now have a full-on Opioid Epidemic in our country and private prisons at capacity, with 2.3 million Americans locked inside.
Allowing former “marijuana felons” into the legal cannabis industry helps repair some of that damage. For those who have carried the burden of a felony marijuana charge brought on them by their state, and are now seeing the same plant make a lot of people rich, reparations are due.
It’s up to those in the cannabis industry and writing cannabis law to fight for their inclusion.