September 17, 2018        

Lauren Kruz  

Sonia Erika


Equity First Alliance Releases Letter Demanding Equity and Justice in Cannabis

22 organizations sign founding document and announce new coalition focused on cannabis equity

LOS ANGELES, CA -- On September 17th, twenty-two organizations across the United States will release a letter that documents patterns of inequity and injustice in the cannabis industry. The signatories are set to announce themselves as the Equity First Alliance, the first national umbrella group to focus on these issues in the rapidly expanding cannabis landscape. The Alliance’s letter contrasts data from the burgeoning industry with data from the history of prohibition, which paint a picture of gross inequity, and concludes with a list of solutions.

Along with the letter, the Equity First Alliance launched a website and video created by Tree Femme Collective that speaks to those issues. Their site also reveals that they are organizing a National Expungement Week, which will be held from October 20-27, 2018.

The Letter’s Signatories are: San Jose Cannabis Equity Working Group, Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, National Diversity & Inclusion Cannabis Association, California Cannabis Advocates, Chicago NORML, Tree Femme Collective, Youth Forward, Public Health Advocates, We BAKED, San Fernando Valley Cannabis Coalition, The Pot Lab, Smart Pharm Research Group, Cage-Free Cannabis, Cage-Free Repair, Cannabis Equity, Asian Americans for Cannabis Education, Social Workers for Cannabis, Angeles Emeralds, The Hood Incubator, Minnesota Campaign for Full Legalization, Green Believers, and Survivors for Cannabis.

Supporting organizations include: Youth Justice Coalition, Community Services Unlimited, Inc., Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches, Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership, Ex-Offender Action Network, UCLA Canna Club, Movement & Medicine, and Tracey Henry Consulting.

“The state-by-state patchwork of policy can obscure the larger pattern: rich white folks are carving up the ‘legal’ industry while thousands of people, disproportionately people of color, remain incarcerated for participating in the cannabis industry,” says Felicia Carbajal, community engagement director of the Los Angeles-based Smart Pharm Research Group.

“Cannabis is being gentrified, and legalization isn’t living up to its name if it continues to be a disaster for the environment and for communities of color, which have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs for decades,” says Torie Marshall, co-founder of Washington DC-based We BAKED.

The letter demonstrates that, despite the legalization of cannabis in eight states and the District of Columbia, equity, justice, and repair for those criminalized by prohibition has been slow to arrive or non-existent. Among the facts raised by the writers:

  • In 2016, 653,249 people were arrested in the United States on cannabis-related charges – meaning that even as legalization sweeps the nation, over half a million people are still losing their liberty, access to education, access to housing, and access to future employment, every year.

  • In Colorado, young people of color have been arrested at higher rates for cannabis possession since legalization happened, even though cannabis usage itself has not increased, and arrest rates for young white people have declined.

  • Estimates of the percentage of cannabis businesses owned by people of color in the cannabis industry range from 1-2% to 19%.

  • In Pennsylvania, prior cannabis convictions prevent people from joining the medical cannabis workforce. In Illinois, those same convictions have been preventing people from becoming cannabis patients.

  • Thus far, California and Massachusetts are the only states to incorporate reparative stipulations into their legal framework, but their “social equity programs” are not fully operational yet.

The letter recommends that policymakers and institutional donors begin to support reparative efforts including automatic expungement, additional resources for “social equity” applicants, and funding for the organizations advocating equity, among other things. The Equity First Alliance also warns that the time for intervention in the cannabis industry is running out.

“We have a limited amount of time to shape this industry, to ensure that it’s equitable and just, but many of us who do that work are having trouble making ends meet,” says Sonia Erika, a co-founder of Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, “We had to make a statement of unity and demand respect.”

“People lost housing, employment, education, their liberty, and their lives to cannabis prohibition. Many of them still walk around with collateral consequences that prevent from accessing those same necessities,” adds Edie Moore, co-founder of Chicago NORML, “Meanwhile, U.S. cannabis companies are going public on the Canadian stock market. There are some well-meaning legislators who agree that there is inequity, but many don't know where to start addressing the problem.”


Visual Resources:

Full Video (Square) — YouTube / Downloadable
60 Second Video — YouTube / Downloadable

Full Video (16:9) — Downloadable



Image Credit: Tree Femme Collective / @treefemmecollective