Dear Black People

by Kiana Hughes

With the election of J.B. Pritzker, we have been all but guaranteed that cannabis will be legalized for adult use in the near future. So, the question for the Black community is NOT what are we going to do about marijuana legalization, but rather, what are we going to do with it? As Black people, we must acknowledge the detrimental effects of the racist war on drugs if we expect our communities to benefit from adult use cannabis legalization in IL.

The War on Drugs and The Black Family

As families fractured and communities crumbled under the weight of the crack epidemic of the 80’s and 90’s, my family and others sought ways to educate ourselves and insulate our lives from the cold, harsh winds of addiction. Some faced the issue head on advocating for rehab, reform and restoration. Other families banned addicted relatives from family homes and gatherings, while praying for the prodigal son’s (or daughter’s) eventual clean and sober return.

In the same way that the “Three Strikes Rule” physically separated families, the war on drugs separated families on an emotional level by promoting the idea that drugs and drug users were “bad.” This narrative was further solidified as some church leaders justified the shunning of drug addicts as sinners we should love—from afar—while hating their sins. In many instances, casting the demon of drug addiction out of the home meant drug addicts were cast out of the families, as well. In all of this, marijuana was incorrectly painted as the gateway to a lifetime of drug addiction, a demon to be cast out of the community.

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Cannabis Legalization and the Black Community

While the fight to legalize cannabis continues at the federal level, states and municipalities where legalization has already happened (or is on the horizon) are figuring out how to ensure public safety and spur economic growth by allowing cannabis businesses to hang shingles in their communities. Despite examples of the potential economic boon that cannabis legalization could be, some Black community leaders are fighting it. Citing the potential for “white corporate exploitation of minority customers,” opponents of legalization are ignoring the other side: the potential for us to benefit from legal cannabis.

The truth of the matter is that we are already Ground Zero for “white corporate exploitation of minority customers.” Most of the convenience stores, liquor stores and gas stations in Black communities are not owned by Black people. Stop in any gas station in the ‘hood and you will see a plethora of blunts, wraps, rolling papers, vape pens, pipes and other accessories for smoking cannabis. The drugs being sold by the Black people in the Black community to the Black people in the Black community often come from White people in black markets of legalized states. We don’t OWN much of anything being distributed in our communities.

Passing the adult use bill will create opportunities for entrepreneurship, employment, and education, as business license categories are expanded to offer options with lower financial barriers to entry. In adult use markets across the US, “budding” entrepreneurs can obtain licenses for retail stores to sell accessories and infused edible products, delivery and transportation services, event planning firms, social consumption sites and other related microbusinesses. A legalized adult use market also creates niche opportunities for ancillary businesses that do not “touch the plant,” (i.e., physicians, accountants, marketing firms, IT consultants, lighting engineers, and security firms, etc.), while also creating an avenue for educational providers to offer training in these areas through trade/vocational schools and certificate and degree programs.

Rather than continuing to fight against legalization efforts, Black community leaders should move beyond antiquated stereotypes about cannabis and its consumers. If we are to benefit from the inevitable legalization of adult cannabis use, we must educate ourselves about the opportunities it presents for our communities. To be frank, from what I’ve seen, our Latinx counterparts get it. They often show up in great numbers at local cannabis industry events to network, learn, and volunteer. They’re creating LLC’s and hosting their own events to provide safe spaces for people to learn and engage in the cannabis culture. Now, it’s time for us to get on the ball. With unemployment among Blacks in IL at almost 9%, we cannot afford to ignore this emerging industry.

Join forces with local chapters like Chicago NORML and Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana to educate yourself about the cannabis plant and opportunities within the industry. Attend community meetings, contact your elected officials, and be proactive in seeking out information from credible sources. Most importantly, keep an open mind—it’s not just about “getting high.” When it comes to legalization, we must get our minds right, or we will get left...again.

Kiana Hughes is the CEO of Elevated Education, LLC and the Education Director for Chicago NORML. She is an experienced instructional designer, writer, and public speaker with over a decade of experience designing curriculum and courses for Web-based and traditional learning environments. |

Kiana Hughes