If 17-year-old Stuart knew that one day he’d be able to walk into a store and buy weed legally in California, he would’ve dropped his bong in astonishment.
For pot smokers, this is an incredible time to be alive. There are currently nine states in which recreational marijuana is legal and another 30 that allow medicinal use. Even though Evil Keebler Elf Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ stance on weed is trapped in the 1950s with the rest of his views, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer plans to introduce legislation to decriminalize marijuana on a federal level. In the next 10 years, there’s a good chance pot will be legal for everyone over the age of 21 in the United States.
Cannabis was a multibillion-dollar industry way before it was legal, but it’s a veritable green rush now that states are sanctioning consumption. As with any exploding market, the hucksters, speculators and corporations are doing all they can to cash in, often with no concern for the strife it took to get here. So while this is a wonderful time to be a stoner, there are many, many snakes in the grass.
The most insidious snake in the weed industry is, of course, former Speaker of the House John Boehner. A few weeks ago, Boehner announced he was joining the board of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis growing and distribution company. This is remarkably hypocritical considering he said he was “unalterably opposed” to legalization in 2011.
This epitomizes the problem with the direction cannabis is headed: People who spent their lives either decrying weed or staying away because of its illegality are set to make fortunes while the people who created the industry and worked clandestinely for decades end up with crumbs.
Many of the people who made and sustained the cannabis industry did so in a world where they had to conduct business underground. From growing to transporting to selling weed, all business was done face to face and in cash. Proposition 64 made it so that no pot farms larger than an acre would be licensed until 2023, but is five years really enough time to get the small-scale folks who created the industry ready to battle Big Weed?
An influx of venture capitalist jackals have already infused their liquid gold into anything that smells like skunk. Add that to the Harvard Business school tech entrepreneurs edging their way in while swearing that selling a joint to their freshmen year dormmate makes them life long advocates.
Big Tobacco, which spent decades fighting legal weed, is masturbating on the sidelines while it calculates how much money Marlboro Greens are gonna make come 2023. Are these the people we legalized pot for? Why should the rich get richer off an industry they shat on for so long?
A partial solution to this would be unionizing the entire industry. Not only would this be great for pot people, but it would also be a huge and important way to show the necessity of organized labor. The money and power labor unions could attain and wield through the cannabis industry is exactly what’s needed to kick off the unionization of other industries, like those that fuel the “on-demand” economy.
None of this even begins to touch on the real fuckery of these rich white guys getting even richer off the thing they spent years either fighting or ignoring. The entire reason weed was illegal in the first place was because it was associated with poor black people and Mexican migrant workers. The War on Drugs has really been a war on poor folks and people of color, and an effective one at that.
According to the ACLU, black people are nearly four times as likely to get arrested for possession of pot than white people. At this very moment, there are people of color still serving decades-long prison sentences for possessing, selling or smoking the exact same plant that’s about to make liars and hypocrites like Boehner even wealthier. The grass certainly is greener on the white side of the fence.
Luckily, some cities, like Oakland, are doing the right thing by prioritizing cannabis dispensary licenses for the people who’ve been disproportionally affected by the War on Drugs. According to Forbes, “The Oakland City Council in April voted to set aside half of medical cannabis licenses for people who have been convicted of a marijuana crime or who lived in one of 21 police districts with disproportionately high marijuana arrests.”
While this doesn’t mention the recreational use licenses, it’s still a great start toward creating racial and economic equity in the exploding cannabis industry. Every single city and state should do this.
Is it enough? Probably not, but it’s a start.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.