On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a black American, lost his life to police brutality. The senseless killing of Mr. Floyd at the hands of police, while he was being arrested for a nonviolent crime, was a racist act. For nearly nine minutes, the arresting officer knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck and ignored his victim’s impassioned pleas that he could not breathe. Three other officers either assisted in restraining Mr. Floyd or watched and did nothing as he took his last breath. All four officers were eventually fired, one has since been charged with second-degree murder, and the three others have been charged with aiding and abetting. Over the past several weeks, outcry over the systemic racism and institutionalized harassment of people of color has been heard at protests across our country and the world.
Institutional racism casts a shadow on all areas of our society and is glaringly evident in the newly legalized cannabis industry. The origin of the prohibition of marijuana lies in the racist history of this country. Some historians claim that the beginnings of this policy originated from the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910 when Mexicans began to immigrate to the United States and brought with them the tradition of smoking marijuana. Fearful of Mexican immigrants, false narratives were created such as marijuana caused a “lust for blood” and, as a consequence, states began to ban cannabis for the first time. In the 1930s, the head of the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry J. Anslinger, started a campaign to criminalize marijuana on the federal level. Anslinger relied on the racist trope that the majority of marijuana users were minorities (including African Americans) and claimed that usage incited violence and caused mental illness.
Sadly, institutional racism continued to play a significant role in the country’s war against drugs over the next 80 plus years. According to some studies, to this day – as prohibition slowly ends – Black people are more than 3.5 times likely to be targeted and convicted of violations of marijuana law than white people. According to the ACLU, in 2016, despite constituting only 36% of the population of Chicago, African Americans constituted 78% of all marijuana arrests while white people comprised less than 5% of such arrests.
While some progress has been made in confronting and combatting inequality, the tragic death of George Floyd makes us all realize that the more things change, the more things seem to stay the same. We at Cannabusiness Advisory believe that Black Lives Matter. We believe that all persons of color deserve to be free from targeted harassment at the hands of law enforcement. We hope that the daily peaceful protests can bring real systemic change, and society never again must mourn another unjust death of a person of color at the hands of unchecked police. We reject racism not only in the cannabis industry, but in our daily lives, and we commit to doing better.