This November, the issues go deeper for African Americans than taxation and who said what on Twitter. As we head to the polls, we find ourselves living in a problematic society designed to oppress us and continues to do so today. With tired minds and heavy hearts, we search for answers and examine the candidates’ platforms to figure out how we can finally live in the United States of America as truly equal citizens.
The inequalities Black Americans face are broad and far-reaching. From institutionalized racism to the wealth gap, our people are mistreated, forgotten, and left behind. A great example of such circumstances can be taken from the budding legalized cannabis industry.
Only 4.3% of the cannabis industry is made up of Black Americans, despite the herb having comparable usage rates among Black and white populations.
The juxtaposition taking place within the American cannabis space is hard to accept. Images of these newfound marijuana moguls grace the cover of celebrated business magazines, heralding these white male industry crusaders as brave, innovative, and brilliant. On the other hand, we continue to see Black Americans in non-legalized states being arrested, charged, and incarcerated at a disproportionate rate for petty marijuana infractions. In fact, a 2020 analysis conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union found that Black people are up to 10 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession. The report also found that in 31 states, the racial disparity in cannabis-related arrests was actually more massive at present than it was ten years earlier.
As I sit here feeling angry about the Black and white narratives that underpin the American marijuana industry, I can’t help but think about the scarlet letter I carry as a Black man charged with a petty marijuana-related offense. I also can’t help but wonder what this scarlet letter could have meant for my future had I not the financial privilege of hiring great lawyers to come to my defense.
Despite having “gotten off easy” by paying a fine and not serving any jail time, I continue to face discrimination from job opportunities every time I have to answer “yes” when asked if I have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime. I was also almost denied the ability to immigrate to Canada to live with my wife and our young son due to this marijuana-related criminal history, despite the herb being federally legal in Canada and fully legal in 12 states.
It is such a slap in the face to read headlines that celebrate these (predominantly) white males who lead the legalized industry and are positioned as trailblazers deserving of our applause when so many of my Black brothers and sisters carry the same scarlet letter that I do.
As it stands, the cannabis industry is a massive opportunity for Black entrepreneurs and those Black Americans with an in-depth knowledge of the plant and the various business opportunities it holds. However, we will never be able to enter this industry in a meaningful way if we do not have governmental support through key pillars such as access to capital, opportunity for education, and true justice reform.
The advancement of Black Americans is a bipartisan issue. We must demand that both sides do better in creating a system that will grant us equal opportunity.
Today, I encourage you to stop letting people tell you how to vote based solely on your skin color and look beyond the headlines to understand who and what we are voting for truly. When you head to the polls on November third, I hope you will cast your vote knowing that it can make a difference and that together, we can lead ourselves to an America that will finally allow our people to live free and thrive.