An increased number of states legalize cannabis each year, leaving activists, legislators, and industry members grappling with how to shape the fledgling industry. Many are worried about seeing a homogenous, wealthy few dominate the industry post-legalization while racial minorities are excluded from cannabiz. Accordingly, it is crucial the cannabis industry works to mitigate the legacy of the War on Drugs and the communities devastated by its impacts.
The Disproportionate Effects of the War on Drugs
It is well-documented that Black and Latino communities were most negatively impacted by the War on Drugs. Higher arrest and incarceration rates in these communities, despite using cannabis at the same rate as their white counterparts, are some of the ways in which the War on Drugs effectively reinforced structural racism.
Recently, states legalizing cannabis for recreational adult use have been trying to address the racist legacy of the War on Drugs. Some states are using the tax revenue collected from cannabis sales to invest in social programs in those communities most impacted by the War on Drugs. Other municipalities are using the tax revenue to invest in public education, do community improvements like sidewalk-building and tree-planting, or — in the case of Evanston, Illinois — to fund a reparations program.
How One City Is Using Revenue from Legal Cannabis
Illinois legalized cannabis for recreational consumption in 2019. Evanston, a small city north of Chicago, is the first city to establish a reparations program in the United States. They are bankrolling the program with tax revenue from legal cannabis.
The first phase of the program will fund housing repairs and/or property costs for a small number of residents. The program is meant to address the historic housing discrimination that impacted the Black community by distributing $10 million to the Black residents of Evanston.
Although the program is making headlines for being the first of its kind, there are many critics arguing that it falls woefully short of expectations. Primarily, critics say that it’s a housing program dressed up as reparations, which they argue are cash payments by definition.
Other States Funding Social Programs
States currently making a meaningful contribution to social equity in the cannabis space include New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Maryland, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Programs vary from state to state. In California for example, there is a program that provides training for minority cannabis business owners.
New York just legalized cannabis in 2021 but has set the highest standards yet for making investments into social programs a priority in their legal cannabis program. If implemented as designed, N.Y. state is on track to replace Illinois as having the most progressive social equity legislation in the legal cannabis space.
If your state is looking to legalize adult-use cannabis going forward, pay attention to examples set in New York and Illinois for guidance on how to make social equity a priority in their proposed legislation. Call your state representatives to voice your support for legislation that addresses issues of inequity. The use of tax revenue for legal cannabis to fund social programs and address racism and inequality caused by the War on Drugs is here to stay. It is important to look at states setting the bar high as examples of how the future of legal cannabis will look.
For more information about why it is important to be an advocate in the cannabis industry, be sure to check out: Why Being an Advocate Matters in the Cannabis Industry.
At NisonCo we are proud to support movements and causes that support the interests of marginalized communities across the nation. Within the cannabis industry itself, there are many working to create a just and inclusive space that acknowledges history and addresses social inequity. We try to do our part by offering pro bono PR services for movements and business practices that advance social justice.