Cannabis Reform: A Pathway to Equity and Opportunity

The 2020 election season marked a transformative time for cannabis policy in the United States, particularly concerning racial and social justice. As candidates for the White House and members of Congress put forward ideas, policy proposals, and legislation, the conversation around cannabis legalization shifted. The focus on cannabis reform highlights how the War on Drugs disproportionately affected targeted communities and how reform could ameliorate some of those wrongs.

The Racist Roots of the War on Drugs

For decades, the criminalization of drugs led to foreclosed opportunities for people of color who were disproportionately victimized by unequal criminal enforcement. In 2013, police officers were 3.73 times more likely to arrest people of color for cannabis possession than whites. Arrest disparities were even more egregious in some communities, where Blacks were 8.3 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession.

The racist roots of the War on Drugs inflicted significant collateral damage on minority groups, saddling young men and women of color with drug convictions—often before age 30—and setting them on a course of institutionalized disadvantage due to the crippling, collateral consequences of criminal records.

The Emerging Cannabis Economy

Today, amidst a thriving state-legal cannabis industry, the same people hurt most by the drug war face the greatest barriers to participating in the emerging cannabis economy. As elected officials consider how to reform the nation’s cannabis laws and rectify these serious socioeconomic and racial issues, they must erase any ambiguity about the protections, corrective actions, and inclusive opportunities intended to reverse the generation-long ills of the War on Drugs.

Designing a Comprehensive Cannabis Opportunity Agenda

We argue that 2020 is an opportune moment to design a comprehensive pragmatic Cannabis Opportunity Agenda: a set of policies that addresses the social harms of marijuana prohibition and seeks to rehabilitate impacted communities with a focus on equity, opportunity, and inclusion. This agenda should include five critical features:

  1. Expungement of Cannabis-Related Criminal Records: Clearing the criminal records of those previously convicted of cannabis offenses is essential to removing barriers to employment, housing, and other opportunities.
  2. A Well-Defined Class of Beneficiaries: Ensuring that the benefits of cannabis reform reach those most affected by the War on Drugs, particularly communities of color.
  3. Protections for Communities Most Ravaged by the War on Drugs: Prioritizing investments, economic development, and social services in areas disproportionately impacted by drug enforcement.
  4. Enabling Minorities to Enter and Successfully Persist in the Cannabis Economy: Creating pathways for minority entrepreneurs and workers to participate in the legal cannabis industry.
  5. Equity and Inclusion: Ensuring that policies are designed to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in the cannabis sector.

The Cannabis Opportunity Agenda aims to address the social harms of marijuana prohibition while fostering economic opportunities and redressing longstanding injustices. It represents a critical step toward a more equitable and just cannabis industry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *