Again and again in this space, we’ve said that the time has come for federal legalization of cannabis. Most recently, the coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying need for economic recovery have made it clear that it’s time to end marijuana’s status as a controlled substance. Even in legal states, businesses are hamstrung by the refusal of financial institutions to be involved due to the federal prohibition on cannabis. It’s very hard to grow a business without a banking relationship.
Now on the heels of the pandemic comes widespread attention to racial injustice, and again cannabis is – or should be – front and center. Since the 1980s and the War on Drugs, the racial disparities in enforcement of cannabis laws has been thoroughly and repeatedly documented. Yet according to a recent Aspen Times article, in every single state black people remain more likely than whites to be arrested on drug charges, sometimes by a factor of eight to ten times. And in most states racial disparities have actually gotten worse since 2010. That’s just going backwards, plain and simple.
Meanwhile, a preponderance of those investing in and profiting from cannabis are white. As of one year ago, only ten percent of cannabis investors in Maryland were men or women of color, according to the Capital News Service, and they tended to own smaller percentages of companies than others. And although Maryland did make an attempt to favor minority applicants for new grower and dispensary licenses, that rollout was marred by technical problems and legal accusations that the “minority ownership” in many applications was on paper only. We can do better.
Legalization of cannabis at the federal level will not magically solve systemic racism. It will, however, remove a hot-button issue about which there can be no debate: While the laws in any given state may or may not be fair, their enforcement is not. It’s time for Congress to act, and to end the hypocrisy.