The Double Standard of Drugs: When Weed Sees Color
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the news that marijuana is big business. Weed has become an industry all on its own, creating overnight millionaires whether it be growing or selling and everything in between. According to Forbes, North America spent a total of $6.7 billion in legal markets in 2016, a number that is expected to grow to $20.2 billion by 2021. With a growth rate of 25% annually, weed is exceeding the both “dot-com era” of the 2000’s and cable television in the 1990’s. That’s a huge deal since the process to nationwide legalization is just beginning.
As of January first, eight states plus the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use, California being the latest. (29 states permit medical marijuana use in some fashion). California law allows for people 21 and over to posses no more than one ounce of marijuana and farmers can also grow up to six plants at home. Naturally, these freedoms will come at the cost of requiring one of twenty licenses and permits for farmers, distributors, and retailers. Since the law took effect on Jan. 1, California is expected to be home to the largest legal market for marijuana in the world, worth $7 million and possibly generate $1 billion in taxes. It’s no wonder that so many industries are trying to stake a claim.
Television series have been created based around the drug and been met with critical acclaim, a la the sitcom Weeds which ran on air for eight seasons (2005-2012) and won an Emmy in 2010. Several other networks are taking on the topic such as Netflix’s Disjointed, MTV’s Mary+Jane, Amazon Go’s Highland, and NBC’s Buds. Documentary style series have also taken up slots on the primetime like Vice’s Weediquette.
Chefs, restaurateurs, and bakers have cashed in as well, appealing to foodies and stoners alike by creating cannabis-infused creations- some of which are fine dining selections that are as exclusive as they are expensive.
But weed sees color. Whether it is buying, selling, growing, or using black people have been left with the short end of the stick.
In the battle for decriminalization, disproportionate arrests between Blacks and Whites are still heavily prevalent, though the amount of use between the two groups is relatively the same. Across the board, Black people are at least four times more likely to be arrested for possession. In states where laws have changed, the question remains of what happens to those convicted of possession charges that have since been decriminalized?
In California, prisoners have the chance to petition for their record to be cleared or reclassified in court. And in Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational use, felons can re-class level six possession felonies to a class 1 misdemeanor, but only after completing the original sentence. But neither of these options make up for the time lost behind bars or difficulty of readjusting upon his or her release.
Also, with so much success and nearly surefire fortune there is a noticeable lack of black ownership in dispensaries, medical or recreational. Concluding an investigative report, BuzzFeed found that less than three-dozen of roughly 3,600 dispensaries were Black owned in 2016, making up about 1%. This statistic is disheartening since those that have been most effected by the war on drugs are having a tough time breaking into the legal market and therefore the wealth.
The “green rush” is far from its peak, with little over half of the country legalizing medical use and an even smaller percentage allowing recreation use. The year 2018 will surely see more states following suit to further decriminalize the drug, giving budding Black entrepreneurs ample time to prepare to make their mark. Hopefully the winds of change will also bring improvement to right the wrongs of a failed war on drugs.