by Kit Ryn Foreman
The United States leads the world in cannabis-related incarceration, with an estimated 40,000 people behind bars. The federal government has stepped back and allowed states to legalize or decriminalize cannabis. Arrest numbers have fallen drastically in legalized states. Numbers have also fallen (if more modestly) in decriminalized states. However, arrests are still occurring in legalized and decriminalized states. These numbers continue to reveal a significant racial disparity, as the ACLU says in their research report:
“Marijuana legalization should be — and indeed is — a racial justice issue. But thus far, racial justice has largely been a peripheral or incidental goal of legalization, resulting in continued racist enforcement of marijuana laws, the exclusion of people of color from participating in, leading, and building wealth from the marijuana industry, and the failure to repair the harms done to communities of color by the drug war.”
In the nine years between 2001 and 2010, there were 8.2 million cannabis-related arrests in the United States; according to the ACLU, 88% of these arrests were for possession of cannabis. Black people were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than white people.
Between 2010 and 2018, there were over six million cannabis-related arrests. These arrests were more likely to involve a Black person. The ACLU states in their research report, that “Black people are still more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people in every state, including those that have legalized marijuana.” Nine out of every ten arrests, according to the report, were related to possession of cannabis.
The battle doesn’t end when someone’s sentence has been served to completion. According to Richard Bronson, founder of 70 Million Jobs (a staffing agency serving formerly incarcerated people): 70 million US residents have extreme difficulty finding employment due to previous incarceration and people of color bear the brunt.
Currently, eleven states and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational cannabis. Fifteen states have reduced legal consequences for cannabis-related activity. The state-by-state solution becomes complicated when viewing cannabis through a medical lens. People who rely heavily on cannabis to treat a variety of symptoms (from PTSD to chronic pain) cannot bring their medicine with them when they fly because it remains federally illegal. They also cannot bring cannabis across state lines without breaking federal law. They must purchase new cannabis products when they arrive (if they travel to a legal state) or go without entirely.
Substance is proud to be a founding member of the Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association (ORCA) — ORCA’s mission is to “represent and advocate for the unique needs of cannabis businesses and consumers in our region.” In 2020, Substance joined the ORCA Board of Directors in order to have a bigger hand in their strategic focus and legislative priorities and helped create ORCA’s Comittee for Social Equity & Racial Justice, to build political and economic power for communities of color.
Substance is also currently contributing to fundraising efforts to establish scholarships for BIPOC individuals working towards a career in cannabis. These scholarships cover the costs of cannabis worker permits and support ongoing professional development. Additionally, Substance has recently joined an advocacy group called the Cannabis Workers Coalition. The CWC is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization that actively lobbies for policy change and is heavily focused on community, advocacy, and education.
Substance is dedicated to using our agency and power to represent under-served, criminalized, and stigmatized populations. We remain dedicated, as ever, to helping to establish cannabis policies that are, in the ACLU’s words, “equitable, smart, [and] reparative.”
“A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform.” American Civil Liberties Union, 20 Apr. 2020, www.aclu.org/report/tale-two-countries-racially-targeted-arrests-era-marijuana-reform.
Oleck, Joan. “With 40,000 Americans Incarcerated For Marijuana Offenses, The Cannabis Industry Needs To Step Up, Activists Said This Week.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 26 June 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/joanoleck/2020/06/26/with-40000-americans-incarcerated-for-marijuana-offenses-the-cannabis-industry-needs-to-step-up-activists-said-this-week/.