By Nadya Nataly
Blacks and Browns harmed by the war on drugs have spent over a million years in prison for cannabis-related offenses.
A. Million. Years.
“Run the numbers,” cofounder of African American owned, California tech company CampNova, Marvin Wilcher said. “Figure out how many of us have actually gone to jail in the last 80 years. Add three to five years to every conviction. The numbers add up. We are talking millions of years locked up away from our families.”
Marijuana arrests are still widespread across the U.S., a trend that remains the same in an era of decriminalization and legalization. Thousands are ensnared into the criminal justice system and subjected to institutional abuse. Nearly nine in 10 African Americans, along with Latinos, 77 percent of 2016 federal marijuana sentences, are arrested, according to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Meanwhile … across town, likened to the gold rush, the green rush is in the middle of one of the greatest growth periods in history. Cannabis is in a period of transformation to become an annual $100 billion-dollar industry.
Billions. Of. Dollars.
The systemic racial profiling and marijuana criminalization of a generation of African Americans and Latinos, whose lives were subverted by cannabis, is merely the tip of the iceberg. When convicted felons get out of jail, often, there is no home waiting.
“Our families have been dismantled through intergenerational incarceration,” founder of Colorado nonprofit, Cannabis Consumers Coalition, Larisa Bolivar added. “So while the cannabis millionaires are popping champagne and having caviar parties, our people are still in jail.”
The long-term effects of marijuana criminalization confronts — denied public housing, student financial aid, employment opportunities and child custody according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.
In some instances, immigration statuses are revoked. According to a report by Drug Policy, marijuana possessions were the fourth most common cause of deportation. Furthermore, in some states, ex-offenders are ineligible to engage in cannabis business due to drug criminal record, Drug Policy reports show.
“And with no place to call home, no money or resources,” Bolivar said. “It's nearly impossible to get ahead.”
So, Who Calls Dibs On The Chips?
As ganja gears up for its legal debut on the world stage, less than 10 percent of cannabis businesses are Black, Latino or minority-owned.
Less. Then. Ten. Percent.
And not for insufficient interest, but primarily the cost of entry.
According to Wilcher, entering the cannabis space requires a hefty amount of cash. For starters, a basic delivery service can cost up-to $200,000. Launching a cannabis distribution business can jump a minimum of $500,000.
“Our communities are in ruins and our men are in jail,” said Bolivar, from Denver. “The people in our communities can’t come up with $2 million [to get in cannabis] legally. This systematic and economic racism will exclude them from entering this burgeoning marijuana business.”
Blacks own an estimated 4.3 percent of cannabis businesses, meanwhile, Latinos own an estimated 5.7 percent of businesses, data shows. While low numbers in the general business population matter, cannabis becomes much more significant.
“It’s relevant,” Wilcher said. “Due to the hundreds of thousands of families that have paid the exacting costs for the war on drugs, which is essentially a war on families of color.”
Bolivar and Wilcher agree — “minorities should reap profits, too.
As the cannabis industry morphs itself into pharmaceutical, beverage and tobacco-alternative companies, with major delivery and distribution businesses — the diversity, equality and equity of the industry comes into question.
“Without early capture of businesses in the space now,” Wilcher said. “African Americans and other minorities will simply miss these incredible generational opportunities. Unless something is done, hundreds of thousands of job opportunities for our communities will be missed.”
Cannabis advocates have high hopes that cannabis can completely come off the Controlled Substances Act, CSA. One of the first marijuana reforms was introduced to the new congress on Jan. 21 by the U.S. Representative Greg Steube, a Republican from Florida. The reform reschedules cannabis under federal law but from a Schedule I to Schedule III.
In early February, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with two additional Democratic senators, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon said they would push to end federal prohibition on marijuana by proposing measures “that will lift up people who were unfairly targeted in the War on Drugs.”
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“Ending the federal marijuana prohibition is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country,” they said in a statement issued by Schumer, a Democrat from N.Y.
During the 2020 Election, now, Vice President Kamala Harris vowed there’d be no “half stepping” to decriminalize cannabis. She currently sponsors the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement — MORE Act. President Joe Biden is in favor of decriminalization, but not for full legalization.
Despite marijuana adovacate’s hopes that Harris would help push full legalization, she’s indicated she wouldn’t sway Biden.
But Bolivar and Wilcher don’t think it's enough.
“The sooner that everyone understands it’s not just about releasing us from jail,” Bolivar said. “It’s about restorative justice and finding pathways to generational wealth in cannabis for our families and communities.”
“If you’re talking about social equity, the first stop is the African American community,” Wilcher said.
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Taking a seat at Capitol Hill, cannabis deregulation and decriminalization continues to spark debates with no pathway to legalization. But Wilcher has a plan.
He proposes $25 billion dollars be invested into a Cannabis Financial Restitution Plan over a period of five years into African American and minority owned cannabis businesses throughout the country. By investing in cannabis businesses founded by Blacks or Latinos, equally, Wilcher said it would be “a fair start and some restitution for the last 80 years of financial destruction that the federal government has waged on African Americans.”
Wilcher said he is presently working on releasing more specific details of his Cannabis Financial Restitution Plan in March 2021.
“For us to have any chance,” Wilcher said. “We are going to need financial support from the federal government.”
The same community that has carried cannabis on its back is ostracized, while culture bandits appropriate the canna-lifestyle they’ve snubbed.
With a push to decriminalize, legalize and normalize use — anecdotally, the cannabis’ narrative continues to change as more people embrace the positive and medicinal benefits of cannabis.
However, it would be remiss not to point out canna culture's influence on the music, entertainment, fashion, art, photography and videography industries, which are all ideas taken from Black culture.
“Even if it doesn’t have a black face at the forefront, what is the music played on the back,” cofounder of CampNova, Emery Morrison asked. “They package that with products, and they make millions.”
The truth is, companies are already making millions, while thousands upon thousands remain incarcerated, some in the same states where recreational and medicinal use is legal. Worst of all, Morrison added, Black cannaprenuers are shut out of the space.
“It’s cruel,” he said. “But the irony of it all, cannabis is becoming a big business. The audacity of the hypocrisy is that dispensaries were deemed ‘essential’ operations amid the Covid19 pandemic. But people are still in jail.”
Morrison and Wilcher sit at the helm of a conglomerate of cannabis businesses, including a new platform, CampNova, a technology hub that provides cannabis consumers a one-stop-shop of celebrity and influencer brands and products. But it’s more than retail. Morrison called CampNova, “a specialized technological and lifestyle e-Commerce solution in the cannabis space.”
“CampNova combines all the online shopping experience and technology of Amazon, UberEats and Fashion Nova — in one centralized location,” Morrison said.
Through their cannabis platforms, the CampNova team also has the capability of white labeling cannabis products while providing unique business opportunities and support to novice cannaprenuers entering the space.
“We’re doing the work to diversify our teams and create inclusive workplaces for Blacks, Latinos and women too,” Morrison added.
Corporate America has an eagle-eye on marijuana and presently waiting for full legalization before moving into the space, Morrison predicted. Conversely, Wilcher also predicted full legalization in 24-months, with no time for half-stepping.
“This is our moment,” Wilcher added. “It is our time to help further shape the culture of the cannabis industry for our families and the world.
Cognizant of those who have exploited Black culture, Morrison said the technological and lifestyle features of CampNova are earnest endeavors to properly empower and push forward a new generation of millionaires and heirs.
“We are enfranchising our culture and truthfully,” Morrison said. “In the long run benefiting ourselves, our families and empowering others not used to benefit from their culture. But most importantly, we get to experience the technology and lifestyle, too.”
Standing at the dawn of an industry of unprecedented size and wealth, Morrison said, “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the narrative and to target revenues to empower communities affected by the War on Drugs.”
“It’s time to end the war on marijuana,” Wilcher said.
Before “big box” picks up an ounce, Wilcher and Morrison are committed, in the subsequent 12-24 months, to establish the necessary business plan and market position to go public.
“It’s about generational wealth,” Morrison said. “It’s about our culture and being in a position to relish our culture and benefit from it too.”
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