A coalition of more than 100 marijuana businesses and industry associations sent a letter to congressional leadership on Thursday, pressing them to ensure that any cannabis reform legislation includes provisions promoting social equity in the industry.
The letter describes the evolution in public opinion around marijuana policy, the mass incarceration implications of prohibition, and the economic potential of legalizing and regulating cannabis. It makes the case that as Congress considers various proposals to change federal marijuana laws, the work won't be complete with the mere end of prohibition.
Specifically, the signees say they are concerned that individuals from communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs are being "left behind because a previous [cannabis] conviction often is a disqualifying factor to become an owner or employee in the new legal 'green-rush.'" And also because "they are unable to come up with the capital necessary to break into the industry."
"In 2018, combined sales of regulated medical and adult-use cannabis topped $10.4 billion, and the 7 states with active adult-use markets generated nearly $1.2 billion in tax revenue. The industry is now employing well over 200,000 people," the letter reads. "And yet, with this rapidly growing new industry and broad popular support for legalization, many of the communities who were devastated by the decades-long War on Drugs are now being left behind."
The coalition made a series of policy recommendations that aim to level the playing field and repair the social and racial harms of the drug war.
For example, the businesses said that, beyond federally de-scheduling marijuana, lawmakers should allow banks to service state-legal cannabis businesses. Fund social equity programs to encourage those targeted in the drug war to participate in the legal market, clear the records of individuals with prior marijuana convictions, and invest in efforts that lift impacted communities.
Signees include the Minority Cannabis Business Association, National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), Marijuana Policy Project. Also, the Americans for Safe Access, Michigan Cannabis Industry Association, Harborside, Berkeley Patients Group, Arcview Group, MJ Freeway, Greenbridge Corporate Counsel, SPARC, and 4Front Ventures, which led the letter.
"I feel the cannabis industry has a moral obligation to ensure that communities and individuals who were harmed the most by prohibition. Do not lose out yet again as we forge these new economic opportunities," said Mike Liszewski, 4Front's senior regulatory affairs counsel and the chief organizer behind the letter, said in a press release.
"There are many who would argue that Congress should not get into the business of picking winners and losers," the businesses wrote.
"We would argue that if Congress chooses to end federal cannabis prohibition but chooses not to address these glaring racial and economic disparities in the process. It will pick those who are already the most well-financed, the least likely to have suffered an arrest and conviction, and almost certainly do not come from the communities that were severely harmed by decades of prohibition to be the winners of the new economy."