Columnist Razvan Sibii: A Place in the Cannabis Industry for Victims of the War on Drugs

Published: 05/16/2022 14:21:59

Modified: 05/16/2022 14:20:12

Systemic problems require systemic solutions. If the country has finally realized that the war on drugs, the school-to-prison pipeline, “tough on crime” policies and “welfare reforms” that deprive those convicted of crimes of housing, employment and further education have decimated poor black, brown and white communities, shouldn’t efforts to restore them also require new legislation, welfare reforms , access to education and a real chance to create generational wealth?

Specifically, if the very thing that put millions in jail – marijuana – is now legal and a wealthy industry is growing around it, shouldn’t we be prioritizing people who have been arrested for smoking a joint for certain jobs and business opportunities associated with this product that half of Americans have used at some point in their lives?

Yes, we should, but we are far from doing it in a deliberate, comprehensive and meaningful way. Marijuana remains completely illegal at the federal level, and many people who use drugs such as alcohol and coffee on a daily basis still believe that smoking weed – let alone selling it – is a criminal activity undertaken by people with moral corrupt. Nevertheless, some legislators, some mayors, some employers and some schools have indeed banded together to reverse not only the process of criminalization, but also the scourges that accompany it: unemployment and impoverishment.

Massachusetts, which was the first state to criminalize cannabis in 1911, decriminalized it in 2009 and legalized its recreational use in 2016. By the end of 2018, a regulated retail cannabis market was in full swing. After seeing the marijuana business in other states follow the old adage “It takes money to make money” and simply add to the assets of upper-class white America, Massachusetts included a “social equity agenda” in its cannabis licensing laws.

Through this program, the state offers training and licensing fee waivers to people interested in selling marijuana legally who have a previous drug conviction (or who are the spouse or child of someone who has such conviction) or who live in a designated area of ​​Massachusetts. disproportionate impact” and do not have an income four times higher than the median income of the zone. “Disproportionate impact areas” are determined primarily based on the rate of drug-related arrests, and Holyoke, Greenfield, and Amherst are all eligible (the latter most likely due to its large student population).

The law also requires all business people seeking a license to provide a plan for “positively impacting” these areas, which may center on hiring locals or simply donating money. efforts to bring capital to the marijuana business. Enter into partnerships between community colleges, nonprofits, government agencies, and corporations, which have been able to attract marijuana money to fund scholarships for people from underserved communities to enroll in cannabis study programs with a view to finding employment in the industry.

Perhaps the oldest such collaboration in the country is Mass. CultivatED, a Boston program launched in 2019, which provides those affected by the war on drugs with access to cannabis courses at Roxbury Community College, legal services aimed primarily at sealing or overturning drug-related convictions and employment opportunities in retail or marijuana growing businesses. The money comes from the state and several cannabis retailers, and it funds about two to three dozen scholarships each cycle.

“It was a kind of ‘learning by doing,'” says Ryan Dominguez, executive director of CultivatED. “In our first cohort, there were so many barriers just to get people to work. And the formerly incarcerated population had to deal with so many other things besides just going to work from 9 to 5 every day, like childcare and transportation. I have built up a small reserve of funds to help people find shelter and protection. One of the big things we learned about this is that we can’t just focus on one game. I feel like every time we go back to the drawing board at the start of the year, we talk about what other services do we need to provide for our fellows to be successful? »

Closer to home, Holyoke Community College is part of another collective that offers scholarships to people from communities affected by the war on drugs. Along with Elevate Northeast, a cannabis-focused non-profit organization, HCC gives people with previous drug convictions and other members of affected communities access to classes and training related to cannabis. cultivation and sale of marijuana.

“HCC has also launched its own program, Western Mass. CORE, specifically to work with people coming out of the prison system. We discussed how we can partner with them to access the population that the cannabis industry is theoretically very actively trying to embrace and do some form of restitution,” says Julia Agron, Deputy Project Coordinator at Cannabis Education. HCC Center. “But realistically there is still a lot of disconnect. And a big part of my job is to help connect these programs and make sure community members see cannabis as a tide that lifts all boats, not just a [businesses] who come to a community to reap a financial windfall for themselves. We want to make sure they hire from the community.

Systemic problems require systemic solutions. Schools, laws, police, courts, prisons and other institutions working together have put many people in untenable situations. Schools, laws, police, courts, prisons and other institutions working together can begin to get these same people out of these situations. “Systemic” means everyone.

Razvan Sibii is an associate professor of journalism at UMass Amherst. He writes a monthly column on immigration and incarceration. He can be contacted at

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