State Rep. Darisha Parker, D-198th District, and a group of experts said the Black community should plan to capitalize off the cannabis industry as legislators consider recreational legalization.
Parker, the chairperson of the Women & Girls of Color Subcommittee of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus (PLBC), recently hosted a virtual forum that featured all women of color discussing the history of marijuana criminalization and their views on how Black people should ensure they reap benefits as it is legalized.
The forum comes on the heels of the Laughlin-Street Bipartisan Adult Use Marijuana Legalization Bill, a piece of legislation introduced in February that would legalize adult (21 and over) purchases from licensed retailers and an option to allow medical marijuana patients to grow the plant at home.
“At some point, we are going to legalize marijuana but the question is how are we as African Americans going to get a piece of the pie, because a lot of the rules and regulations as they stand, right now, if you have any other drug-related offenses, you cannot be eligible,” said Courtney Richardson, founder of The Ivy Investor.
“Everything is not for everybody. That’s the biggest thing. Everybody who comes to me about cannabis — they’re like ‘I want to be a grower’ or ‘I want a dispensary.’ But there’s always different ways to make money in the cannabis industry that’s not just focused directly on the growing, processing the plant and selling the plant. Everything you do outside of the industry — those gifts and talents can be brought into the industry.”
Cherron Perry-Thomas, co-founder of Green Dandelion Marketing and the first minority-owned, free cannabis conference on the East Coast, agreed.
“People have to understand where the money resides, the money resides in the ancillary services,” said Perry-Thomas. “When you look at the financial analysis, (cannabis) is not an overnight money maker. There are so many ancillary services and I think that’s what communities need to know. If you’re law enforcement, security is a major aspect of that. Accounting — that is a major aspect. It’s just like any other business.”
The women also stressed that Black people ensure that profits from the cannabis industry are re-invested into their communities, especially considering the impact of decades-long criminalization of marijuana and nonviolent drug offenses.
“It’s really important, as we start to go into this roller coaster of adult-use legislation and what that looks like, we have to make sure that social equity is a big part of it,” said Perry-Thomas. “Cannabis does a lot of that for communities. As we sort of start to open this up more, we just want to make sure we are included because so many times we’re an afterthought to this but when you look at the policy, we’re definitely the first thought when it comes to locking people up. So, we want to make sure this policy is on the flip side of that and it’s actually doing the right thing, making sure that we’re focusing on housing, education (and) on mental health.”
Noting the example of Evanston, Ill., a city that used a portion of cannabis tax profits to pay reparations to victims of housing discrimination, Perry-Thomas said Pennsylvania legislation should do the same.
“That is what cannabis legislation and taxation should look like for our communities,” she said. “Consider what the war on drugs has done to it. That’s just a drop in the bucket. We need more … And that would be helpful to many Pennsylvanians.”
Richardson added that impacting legislation means the cannabis industry could use Black people who can write or input on laws.
“We can put ourselves in a better position to actually write legislation that can address the social ills, the problems and the legislative issues of back in the day to right the wrongs,” she said.
Sheena M. Roberson, founder of Cannabis Noire, shared a similar view while noting issues with the state’s recreational legalization bill.
“As much as I am excited about many of the adult-use bills and a lot of the legislation and legislation talk that’s happening here in Pennsylvania, I think from our history and from what we know about how it’s become illegal, these things needs to be heavily considered when we talk about how we shape this new legislation and what we expect,” Roberson said.
“As we talk about Pennsylvania legalization … there wasn’t enough focus on social equity and reinvestment programs, and I think a lot of that has to do with there was not enough conversation with people who are in actual need of reinvestment … As we are thinking about this and how we want our citizens to be impacted, we have to think about what it means to be a patient, what it means to be a person of color in this space, what it means to be a person adversely impacted by the war on drugs and how we can circumvent those obstacles.”
Parker said such a conversation was necessary so Black communities are aware of the opportunities presented by the cannabis industry.
“Blacks aren’t properly represented in this topic … It’s my intent to have productive partnerships and reveal the truth versus myths,” she said. “The only way the legislation will pass (is) if we discuss the topic from health, economics (with) African Americans at the table, not on the menu.”
State Rep. Donna Bullock, D-195th District, PLBC chair, listened in on the forum and stated her support.
“I’m already thinking how we can use all this knowledge and wisdom that was dropped to craft policy that uplifts Black and Brown Pennsylvanians,” Bullock said.
“We cannot allow others to dictate how we engage in this industry, how we define it, how we define our roles, how we tax it, regulate it, all of that. We need the voices of Black and Brown folks who are experts in their space to help and advise the legislation we are working on, and that is definitely the case when it comes to cannabis.”
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