As a co-founder of Plant Inspired Future, I was surprised to see cannabis deemed an essential business amid global shutdowns and unrest. The irony being, just a few years prior, that statement would be an invitation for trouble in communities of color. For centuries, our ancestors used cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes. Clothing, paper, and other cannabis and hemp-derived products dominated markets leading up to the Civil War.
The first half of the 20th century saw the rise of tobacco, liquor, and cannabis. Tobacco and liquor went on to become big business. Cannabis, on the other hand, endured decades of prohibition that unjustly incarcerated tens of thousands of men of color. The Black jazz community, “hepsters,” were large proponents of marijuana usage and mostly ignored government propaganda, which labeled marijuana consumers as thugs, looters, and other derogatory terms. A series of anti-marijuana propaganda movies, including Reefer Madness, were released to fuel a state of delirium. These dark affiliations continue to be used as a vehicle to oppress, penalize, and wrong American minorities.
Meanwhile, alcohol prohibition in the 1920s disproportionately impacted African Americans, immigrants, and poor whites, as they were most likely to be purchasing alcohol during Prohibition. Their upper-class white counterparts had the financial means to stockpile alcohol and private houses in which to consume it. Eventually, there was a collective public outrage, from both rich and poor, coupled with lost revenue that proved too much to allow the ban to prevail, leading to the 1933 passing of the 21st Amendment to end Prohibition.
Shortly after, in 1937, Congress presented the Marihuana Tax Act, which essentially criminalized marijuana. With a new prohibition in hand, law enforcement targeted and mistreated communities of color, especially Black and Latino men. Today, Blacks are nearly four times more likely than their white counterparts to go to jail for marijuana possession, despite similar consumption rates. This contributes to the disproportionate incarceration rates of Blacks and Latinos compared to whites in America. The narrative that labels people of color as criminals needs to be silenced. The oppression must end and we must, as a community, pursue and support minority-owned cannabis businesses.
Like with Prohibition, the tax potential of cannabis is too great to continue its criminalization. Numerous states have rushed to legalize while, federally, the government passed the 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp. Yet, amid America’s pursuit of profit and tax revenue, let’s not forget the oppression of minorities that is so recent, it often deters people of color when they are presented with opportunities to operate legitimate cannabis businesses. States should undo the misclassification of our first cannabis entrepreneurs as criminals. Release prisoners with marijuana-related sentences and seal those records.
The propaganda once used to incarcerate minorities is baseless. The negative stigma that has persisted with cannabis consumption is now challenged by our understanding of cannabinoids’ positive effects on the body. If history is written by the victor, today I write history. As a Black man, I am a leader in this multi-billion dollar market, and I demand the release of those who were unjustly arrested to allow them to participate in this budding industry. They were visionaries who stood for true American values of capitalism, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness, so let’s uplift them for being fearless entrepreneurs who refused to be silenced by the American government.
Marvis Burns WG14 is a co-founder of Plant Inspired Future, a multi-state cannabis company.