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Cannabiziac Forum: Civil Rights, Criminal Law, and Black People in the Cannabis Industry

Cannabiziac Forum: Civil Rights, Criminal Law, and Black People in the Cannabis Industry

Cannabiziac is a member-based company that focuses on helping new and existing cannabis professionals tap into the growing industry by creating, cultivating, and growing their cannabis business. Cannabaziac held an open forum on February 17, 2021 to discuss civil rights and criminal law within the cannabis industry. 

Cannabiziac Forum: Civil Rights and Criminal Law

The forumwhich Chief Marketing Officer Scheril Murray Powell described as the Black History Month edition of Cannabiziacaimed to discuss and inform people on the current standing of African Americans in the cannabis industry. Additionally, the forum focussed on how everyday people can use their voices to promote justice and social reform for African Americans who have been incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses.

Melba Pearson, the guest speaker of the forum, has extensive experience with justice reform. She previously served as the Deputy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida for three years. Melba was part of the leadership that helped pass amendment 4, which helped give voting rights Back to people with felony convictions in Florida. Melba currently works in the Center for the Administration of Justice, and frequently speaks to pre-law and law school students. 

Pearson guided the discussion with the intent of addressing the background of the cannabis industry and  its evolution from The War on Drugs, the potential economic impact of full legalization of cannabis, and actions that everyday citizens can take. 

Black people in the Cannabis Industry

Pearson emphasized that according to a study conducted by the ACLU, Black people are 4x more likely to be arrested for cannabis-related felonies than white people, even though rates of usage are the same. “People are making millions off the same plant that’s sending people to prison,” said Melba. “Minorities are being locked out of the cannabis industry.” The unfortunate truth, as explained by Melba, is this: Black Americans lack general wealth due to slavery and Jim Crow laws, confining them to poorer areas without the same tax space or infrastructure, thus perpetuating a generational lack of wealth. 

According to Melba, this discrimination against Black Americans as incredibly evident during the War on Drugs.The mindset behind the war on drugs was to incarcerate those addicted to drugs rather than helping them with their addiction. This mindset is evident today in the targeting of Black people who struggle with drug addiction. 

Thus, children of parents who were incarcerated for what would now be considered minor drug-related felonies already are dealing with a generational lack of wealth. This makes it harder for them to obtain loans to enable them entering the cannabis industry, thus furthering the discrimination against Black Americans in the cannabis industry. “If you checked off the box on an application ‘have you ever been convicted of a crime,’ your application will go directly into the garbage,” said Melba.

Cannabis Legalization and Expungement 

As the law currently stands, you need a medical marijuana permit in order to legally possess cannabis in the state of Florida. Possession of over 20 grams of marijuana without a permit is liable to five years in prison. In 2019, Florida passed Amendment 4 to restore the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions (excluding those convicted of sexual assault offenses). As per Melba, another bill, passed shortly after, stripped the ability of Amendment 4 to make a difference. 

Melba and Scheril emphasized that the long-term goals for Cannabiziac are to enforce full legalization of cannabis on both the state and federal levels, expunge all cannabis records, and allow people who have a criminal history to work in cannabis industries. “Why should your expertise be held against you?” asked Melba, referring to the difficulties of entering the cannabis industry with a history of cannabis related felony convictions. 

How You Can Help

In the final portion of the forum, Melba outlined how everyday citizens can help Cannabaziac in their efforts to enact justice for those struggling to make it in the cannabis industry. One of the easiest ways to help is calling your congressman and local and state senators and asking them to vote yes on bills that aim to decriminalize marijuana. 

One of these bills includes the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019, also known as the MORE Act, which aims to establish a fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses impacted by the war on drugs and impose a 5 percent sales tax on cannabis products. 

Melba also encouraged those in the cannabis industry to hire qualified individuals who may have a criminal history with the hopes of normalizing the presence of individuals with cannabis convictions in the industry.