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As the Cannabis Industry is booming in Grand Rapids, what about Reparations for the War on Drugs?

March 10, 2021

I was driving on US 131 the other day to run an errand and I noticed that maybe one third of the all the billboards on both sides of the highway were advertisements for Cannabis.

This is not surprising, as we have been monitoring the Grand Rapids City Planning Commission and City Commission meets over the past few years, and rarely does a month go by where either Medical Marijuana or Recreational Cannabis facilities are getting approved. 

The Cannabis industry is booming, with news media outlets jumping on board to give attention and promote the products. Today (Thursday), MLive is a virtual seminar on the cannabis industry, with seven different panelists. This event is sponsored by the cannabis industry and according to MLive, “The event is intended for current industry leaders and business owners, as well as those wishing to be thought leaders in the cannabis trade.”

With the decriminalization of cannabis, why wouldn’t you want to get in on an industry that will make billions? 

As always, I have questions. First, only until recently, if you were selling cannabis, in any quantity, you would be arrested. Now, some people get to put up billboards to advertise cannabis. I say some people, since the cannabis industry seems is rapidly embracing the Capitalist model, where profits are God and chain cannabis stores will soon be like McDonalds. 

Second, we all know that when cannabis wasn’t legal, that Black and Brown people were disproportionately arrested and incarcerated for cannabis possession and distribution. According to a recent report from the ACLU entitled, A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform, the racial disparities in marijuana arrests is still happening.

As reported in the previous section, the total number of people arrested for marijuana possession, and rates of arrests, have decreased in all legalized states and most decriminalized states. These rates decreased for both Black and white populations, yet the racial disparities in arrest rates persist. In every state that has legalized or decriminalized marijuana possession, Black people are still more likely to be arrested for possession than white people.

Now, if arrests rates for marijuana continue to disproportionately affect Black people, then the next logical question to ask is, what is the new cannabis industry doing to address the historical and contemporary War on Drugs?

In looking at the websites for area cannabis retailers, the only one that addresses issues about the War on Drugs is Fluresh and even then there is only mention on their Community Impact page about the Black and Brown Cannabis Guild, which has been doing great work around expungement.

So, it would seem that billions will be made from cannabis sales, by a small sector of businesses (which will likely become more consolidated with time), who have little interest in dismantling the War on Drugs and providing reparations to those most affected. Isn’t Capitalism wonderful. 

Reparations for the War on Drugs – specifically cannabis-related

So what would reparations look like, specifically for the cannabis possession/distribution charges in the War on Drugs era? A good start is what the Black and Brown Cannabis Guild is doing, which is the expungement of the records of those who have been charged with cannabis possession previously. However, expungement isn’t enough.

The Cannabis industry could afford to pay reparations (the Cannabis Industry was worth $61 billion in 2020) to Black and Brown people impacted from the War on Drugs by directly transferring money to people who have been arrested and incarcerated for cannabis crimes. Black and Brown people who have been arrested and incarcerated for cannabis crimes lost money being in jail or prison, lost time being in jail or in prison, and lost opportunities being in jail or in prison. Of course, the state also needs to pay reparations for their role in the War on Drugs, but since the state is regulating the cannabis industry, why not have some of the billions that this industry will make be set aside as reparations for those who have been previous arrested and incarcerated for selling cannabis, particularly Black and Brown people.There is something fundamentally wrong with White people who now want to cash in on the cannabis industry, especially since it is well known that White people wanting to start a business have easier access to bank loans, etc. For those who want to profit off of cannabis sales, especially white people, let’s make them pay reparation!

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