(NEW YORK) — Nearly a decade in the past, Linda Greene was having dinner with a few of her pals when she heard that marijuana had been legalized for medicinal use in Washington, D.C. Having lived via the Sixties counterculture, she noticed a possibility.
Greene opened Anacostia Organics in 2019. The push to open the medicinal marijuana dispensary started after Greene noticed that of the 15 authentic cultivator and dispensary licenses issued by the district’s Department of Health, none had been awarded to residents of the U.S. capital, and solely two had been awarded to folks of colour.
Anacostia Organics turned the primary medical marijuana dispensary east of the Anacostia River, situated in a poverty-stricken space that was additionally residence to the vast majority of town’s sufferers registered to purchase marijuana for medicinal functions. Greene, who goals to uplift the neighborhood during which her dispensary is situated, mentioned the drug has been misunderstood.
“This is not a stoner industry,” she informed ABC News. “It’s been misconceived. … It’s the industry of healing.”
Greene is one in every of over 320,000 Americans who work within the cannabis trade. The drug, which has been legalized for leisure use in 17 states and Washington, D.C., accounted for $17.5 billion in gross sales in 2020.
Yet, at the same time as revenues from cannabis proceed to develop throughout the nation, the drug stays a federally prohibited Schedule 1 managed substance — in the identical class as heroin, ecstasy and LSD.
That might change, although. Ninety-one p.c of Americans surveyed believed marijuana must be legalized, in keeping with a Pew Research Center survey from final month. Of these individuals, 60% mentioned it must be legalized each recreationally and medicinally. Only 8% mentioned it shouldn’t be authorized for any grownup use.
The survey was carried out amid a heightened push by lawmakers to decriminalize the drug on the federal stage and supply restorative justice to those that’ve been incarcerated for sure marijuana offenses. The House lately handed the SAFE Banking Act of 2019, which might make it simpler for cannabis firms to function in states the place gross sales of the drug are authorized.
During a press briefing on April 20, extensively thought-about to be an unofficial vacation for marijuana customers, White House press secretary Jen Psaki mentioned that President Joe Biden helps “decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records. He also supports legalizing medicinal marijuana.”
But whereas Biden’s place might fall wanting full leisure legalization, Andrew Freedman, the previous director of cannabis coordination for the state of Colorado, mentioned now could also be among the finest probabilities to legalize the drug.
Freedman was extensively referred to as Colorado’s cannabis czar. He spearheaded the state’s framework for leisure marijuana use legalization — the primary within the nation. Since 2014, the trade has amassed $10 billion in gross sales and over $400 million in tax income that has been utilized in half to fund the state’s school-related initiatives.
He mentioned the state has had authorized marijuana for lengthy sufficient now that it’s not even taboo anymore.
“If you go to Colorado right now, and you have conversations about cannabis, it’s the most normal thing in the world,” he mentioned. “It stands right alongside alcohol. It stands right alongside the Denver Broncos as just a thing to have a conversation about.”
Freedman, who went on to advise different state governments about the way to set up cannabis rules, is now the manager director of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education and Regulation. The assume tank represents stakeholders together with huge tobacco, huge beer and safety firms, amongst others.
With extra states legalizing it, Freedman mentioned the assume tank’s purpose is to deal with the “hows” of marijuana legalization reasonably than the “ifs.”
“Our strategy is really to stop focusing on if legalization should go forward, recognizing that legalization has gone forward,” he mentioned. “It’s a reality for almost half of America.”
Virginia turned one of many newest states to legalize marijuana for leisure use final month. But whereas it’s the primary state within the South to take action, it’ll take three years for folks to have the ability to promote the drug legally. Gov. Ralph Northam lately pushed the state legislature to hurry up the timeframe to legalize easy possession in an effort to restrict marijuana-related arrests.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Americans are almost 4 instances extra probably than white Americans to be arrested for marijuana possession, regardless of comparable charges of use.
Shanita Penny was charged with possession almost a decade in the past. She mentioned she believes her encounter with the legislation is an instance of the racial bias typically seen in policing minorities who’re caught with marijuana.
“It’s personal. I was on [Interstate 95] in Virginia when I was pulled over and arrested for cannabis possession,” she informed ABC News. “Born and raised in Virginia, I didn’t think that would happen.”
Penny paid almost $3,500 to expunge her document after being charged with possession. She mentioned she believes it was solely as a result of she was in a position to get the assistance of an legal professional. It was a tough course of, she mentioned, even “for someone who’s reasonably resourced.”
“But for someone who’s not, this becomes a game-changer in the worst way,” she mentioned.
Penny labored for a number of Fortune 500 firms as a marketing consultant earlier than founding cannabis consulting agency Budding Solutions. She mentioned she thinks wielding her abilities in compliance and enterprise improvement won’t solely assist cannabis companies thrive however can even stability the scales of justice for minorities.
“It lit a fire under me to make legalization happen in a way that people who were not interested in consuming this plant or being part of this industry would fully understand why legalization is so important and how equitable legalization can impact your life, whether you’re touching this plant or not,” she mentioned.
Decriminalizing marijuana possession initially is essential, she mentioned, as a result of if legalization is “truly going to prioritize racial equity and the harm that’s been done, then we needed to stop the harm as soon as possible.”
Like in Colorado, different states are more and more seeing the income from their cannabis gross sales as a supply of funding to pursue racial fairness and financial alternative, Freedman mentioned.
“A lot of the conversation now is, how do you make sure that the economic opportunities available from a new economy are there for the communities most harmed by the war on drugs?” he mentioned.
A decision handed in Evanston, Illinois, in March would supply reparations to the communities hit the toughest: A portion of tax revenues from cannabis gross sales would go towards a $10 million fund over 10 years to assist pay for residence repairs or down funds for Black residents who’ve confronted traditionally unfair housing practices.
In Virginia, the legislation to legalize cannabis contains the so-called Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund, which might direct 30% of tax income to communities which were overpoliced for marijuana-related crimes.
“We have a lot of hopes on the commercial market here, particularly in Virginia,” mentioned activist Chelsea Higgs Wise, govt director of the group Marijuana Justice. “But it is going to be a hard push to truly make that equitable, and we would like to really say that this is a first step forward. This is a progressive step forward.”
In Washington, D.C., Greene says she additionally feels compelled to reinvest the fruits of her labor into her neighborhood. Along with opening Anacostia Organics in her personal neighborhood, she additionally employs individuals who stay there and teaches them the internal workings of the trade in order that they, too, can someday construct up.
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