Before diving straight into the recent race demonstrations in the US, UK and around the world, we would like to take this opportunity to briefly re-state why Mind Body Community (MBC) was started. Yes, 100% we are commercial CBD business – albeit one with a focus on sourcing quality products and providing on-going support for our customers CBD journey. However, from the beginning, the ‘C‘ of ‘MBC‘ has been about ‘Growing Communities’.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, protests about police brutality and systemic racism have been seen in cities from San Francisco to Sydney, rising up in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. And while we should ‘all’ undoubtedly be exclaiming ‘Black Lives Matter’, it’s critical to understand how our socio-political evolution has harmed BAME (Black, Asian, Minority-Ethnic) communities. Specifically, how the war on drugs, and cannabis in particular has been a central tool of racial and cultural repression.
Global drug policy, and specifically cannabis legislation has been a catastrophic human tragedy – damaging the lives of millions of people; from lost economic opportunity to incarceration. It’s a topic which we’ve previously covered in detail on our dedicated Growing Communities page and our article 6 Reasons Why Cannabis legalization Benefits All of Us, so we won’t repeat everything here. However, the social harm that’s been inflicted has disproportionately impacted those of BAME heritage; from farmers in Thailand to African-Americans on the streets of US cities.
Humans and cannabis have a long and happy history…
There is well-documented evidence of cannabis use for medical and therapeutic purposes by humans dating back to at least 3000 BCE in Central Asia and China. What some may not know is that it was only the early 20th century that we began criminalizing the plant, and that many reasons for doing so were both xenophobic and racist. For example, as the cultures of Latino and African-American society started to permeate the American main-stream, measures were taken to ‘protect’ white American culture and business.
The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 is believed to have been enacted by businessmen keen to destroy the hemp industry (hemp being an extremely versatile by-product of cannabis cultivation) as it posed a grave threat to the existing (white-owned) paper processing industry. The bills key sponsor Harry Aslinger was instrumental in presenting cannabis as a drug that ‘degenerated the minds’ of racial minorities making them crazed or dangerous, to ensure that a sensible debate about resourcing was usurped by racial prejudice. The bill passed.
In the 1960s, as cannabis became a symbol of youthful rebellion, social upheaval, and political dissent, the US government halted scientific research to evaluate its medical safety and efficacy. A top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman would later admit “The Nixon White House… had two enemies: the anti-war left and black people… We knew we couldn’t make it to be illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.” We witnessed similarly sinister moves by governments around in the world throughout the 20th century, with significant pressure from the US to ensure global uniformity.
This recent report by The Global Commission on Drugs Policy clearly states that global drug and cannabis legislation has been driven by political rather than scientific or public health motivations. The US may have led the way, but listening to politicians from many developed countries ignoring the advice from scientists, public health officials and even the police, has been like watching an ostrich willfully lean its head into quick drying cement.
The Criminal Justice Case
In recent months many have noted the absurd juxtaposition that around 40,000 Americans are currently incarcerated for non-violent cannabis offenses while a number of states have mandated (cannabis) dispensaries remain open as “essential business” throughout the corona-lockdown. And while 9 U.S states have recreational cannabis laws on the books, as recently as 2018 40% of all U.S drug arrests were for marijuana, mainly possession. And despite roughly equal usage rates of the plant, Blacks remain 3.7 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.
Billions of taxpayer dollars fund these arrests and in fact, it costs an average of $35,000 per inmate, per year, nationwide to keep someone locked up – meaning a total $1.4bn that could be better used for critical social initiatives. Meanwhile the sales tax on cannabis in places like Colorado is distributed to a wide variety of government functions including education, public health, construction, and substance abuse prevention. The state collected $302 million in such revenue in 2019.
The Economic Case
The economic benefits of legalizing cannabis are frankly difficult to overstate. Workers are needed to farm, process, distribute, and retail. Ancillary industries that stand to benefit include software development, financial services, and construction, among others. Overall sales in the U.S are projected to increase to $31.1 billion by 2024, while a report from New Frontier suggests that nationwide legalization could generate 1 million jobs by 2025. Considering that we’re experiencing just the tip of the iceberg of economic hardship wrought by Covid-19, these are not insignificant prospects. Given that BAME communities are almost always in the lowest income percentiles in developed countries, and that cannabis cultivation could be a major boon for developing countries around the world, legalization could be a critical economic lifeline.
The on-going pandemic has given many of us an opportunity to reconsider our priorities, and about the various ways we can and should do better as a society. At MBC we’ll be planting our flag alongside those who believe that a root and branch review of cannabis (and wider drug) policy is a critical component in addressing systemic racism, as well as an opportunity to plant green shoots for a more equitable global economic recovery. It’s about time we get on the right side of cannabis history and remove another layer of insidious racial prejudice.