The Evolving Ecosystem of Cannabis: Diversification is Key

diversity in cannabis

Over the years, we’ve heard cannabis referred to as the next gold rush, or the “green rush” for many. A place where you could find your fortune, leave a legacy. You know, whatever other cliche things people think of when they think about the American dream. In recent times, the American dream, for many, has been linked to cannabis. 

Much like the intangible American dream of yore, this new cannabis-created ideal seems to leave quite a few people out of the picture. The changing face of cannabis is becoming increasingly… 

Whitewashing the Industry

The perception of cannabis has changed and grown over the last 100 years. Originally used by the American elite, mostly in tincture form, cannabis was sold over the counter to help with stomach aches and the painful effects of cholera.  When the Mexican Revolution forced a multitude of immigrants to flee north, the cannabis they brought with them began to shift the social status of its usage, eventually making cannabis and those who used it “less than”.  Due to it’s mild mind expanding properties , it’s use appealed to a multitude of young creatives, causing cannabis to spread,  eventually becoming an embedded symbol of a variety of countercultures; from the jazz scene of the 20s, to the hip hop scene in the 90s.  For the greater part of the last century, the face of cannabis and the subsequent culture it birthed has been a face of brown and black youth. Yet over the course of the past decade, first with decriminalizing then with the more recent recreational legalization cannabis has become the living, growing version of a modern day gold rush. The face of cannabis, and it’s social status, once more is beginning to shift.

Only this time, that change seems to be isolating the ones who helped to build the foundation in the first place — many times at the cost of their freedom, or their lives. According to NORML there are 14 times as many marijuana prisoners in CA as there were in 1980, and of those prisoners, 59% of them are classified as Latino or African American. The disparate enforcement of cannabis crimes has long been a prevalence, but now with the legalization for recreational use, that enforcement has still managed to carry over to the industry, creating barriers for those who are now attempting to enter in cannabis the legal way. 

The System is Broken, Now Fix It

In order to assist those who are facing those obstacles, there are different groups working around the country to ensure there is some form of equity in cannabis. We took a look at California’s capitol, Sacramento, and their CORE (Cannabis Opportunity Reinvestment and Equity) program

Administered by the Greater Sacramento Urban League and the Sacramento Asian Chamber of Commerce, it is intended to address the inherent inequity of the cannabis industry by offering “access to various resources and support including assistance with the development of a cannabis- related business plan, and access to business education, mentoring, technical assistance, regulatory compliance, priority processing of certain permit applications, and assistance with expungement of criminal records.” 

To qualify applicants must meet a litany of requirements depending on whether you are applying as an individual or as a business, including but not limited to; residing in a low income household, residing within certain zip codes of the city, being directly affected by cannabis arrest, whether yourself or immediate family member, etc. 

While the CORE program, and the variety of programs across the country like it, are a start, there is still much more work to be done. The current landscape of cannabis is a newly formed ecosystem. With the seeds of legalizing recreational cannabis being planted across the nation, and the push for a federal legalization looming on the horizon, the opportunity to learn and grow the industry has to come from those like California, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and the states who have been doing this the longest. Over the years, we’ve slowly watched as the cannabis industry heads into decline – and while there are a litany of reasons, if science has taught us nothing, it is that an ecosystem cannot thrive without diversity. 

The cannabis industry is no different.

[image source: photo by Markos Mant on Unsplash]

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Chicana journalist, editor, educator, and organizer in Sacramento whose sole focus is to shed light on stories on our most impacted and marginalized communities, but even more importantly, for those stories to humanize those normally left out. She is an Ida B Wells Investigative Journalism Fellow 2022 Finalist, a member of the Parenting Journalists Society, and has bylines in The Courier, The Sacramento Bee, The Americano, Submerge Magazine among others.

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