For decades the African American community has paid the highest price in the War on Drugs. According to a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, although blacks and whites partake in cannabis at about the same rates, black smokers are almost four times more likely to be arrested for possession. And now, as more states move toward legalization, the African American community is largely missing out on the financial benefits of the cannabis boom.
Despite the undeniable influence of hip hop on cannabis culture, endless marijuana strains named for rappers and growing acceptance in the community, African Americans are mostly absent from positions of power within the industry, particularly when it comes to dispensary ownership. One person working to change that is Alice Huffman, President of the California NAACP.
“Marijuana is going to be legalized. When it is legalized, there ought to be some funds going back into the community to restrengthen our community,” Huffman told MERRY JANE. A primary objective for Huffman, and other leaders like former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, is to create a way for those convicted of drug crimes to find legal work in the cannabis industry, including dispensary ownership. “There should be a legal pathway for those people who became felons to engage in this new industry and reap some of the benefits and gain some of the wealth,” Huffman continued.
It may be an uphill battle getting some cannabis dealers operating illegally to go legit. “I don’t think any of us trust the government enough to operate within it,” one long-time California marijuana dealer told MERRY JANE. “The dispensaries get raided all the time. Is it really any safer to work there?”
The distrust isn’t unwarranted. “If you go back to the history, our community has been destroyed by the infiltration of drugs - many of them government entities,” said Huffman. “We have such a negative experience with drugs that we have to educate ourselves on the facts and get over the fear.” Huffman is clear that she has no personal interest in “the plant” itself and stated at a recent NAACP meeting in South Central Los Angeles that she’s never even held a joint. Her focus is on working to turnaround the negative effects drug laws have had on African Americans, “I'm not campaigning for adult use, I'm campaigning for social justice.”
Wanda James, who, along with husband Scott Durrah, opened the first African American owned dispensary in Colorado echoed Huffman’s feelings in a recent interview with The Atlantic, “The reason why my husband and I are in this industry is to bring light and awareness to the issues surrounding social justice. We have massive issues with the people who are arrested that look like us for simple possession."
Huffman maintains that members of the African American community need to educate themselves and consider the economic advantages of cannabis, whether or not they personally enjoy marijuana. “The War on Drugs has destroyed the infrastructure of our community, therefore we need to find a way to restructure and restore our community. We need to benefit. There’s money to be made in cannabis and and we’re missing out.”