It’s time for our industry to help absolve Black and Brown Americans of their prohibition-era cannabis convictions.

As the COVID-19 pandemic changes our perceptions and priorities, and social uprisings finally address decades of systemic racism, we’re witnessing a global cultural shift.

Cannabis is deemed essential in legal states like Colorado, and we’re grateful that marijuana is rightly viewed as medicine. And recreationally, cannabis is a healthier, more mellow alternative to alcohol. Today, every functioning adult needs stress relief; we’re happy to serve the community with marijuana, an ancient herbal remedy. 

But our industry needs to have hard conversations like every person needs to right now. Because how we react today reveals much about the spirit and soul of our community.

The war on drugs helped to bring us to this point.

Cannabis businesses (like Lightshade) are in a unique position today because America’s War on Drugs included cannabis prohibition, and its continued prohibition plays into the oppression faced by Black Americans. 

The cannabis industry needs to make racial justice a priority.

We’re obliged to honor and pay our debt to history. The cannabis industry wouldn’t exist without generations of Black Americans – the first people to bring our favorite plant to North America.

Black musicians introduced cannabis to white audiences through Jazz, including venerated Beat generation authors Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The Beats brought weed (or tea, as they called it) to a generation of white hippies and birthed the countercultural movements of the 1960s and 70s.

Cannabis helped the Jazz Agee flourish, serving as a conduit for creativity, music production and performance. The 1920-30s saw the beginnings of cannabis slang and cultural development, specifically in Black communities. Joints were sold outside tea pads or cannabis bars. Musicians would light up on tea, reefer, grass – codes for cannabis since the drug was vilified nationally and on the cusp of criminalization – singing tributes to the substance.” – Daily Trojan

But countless Black Americans have paid the price for giving us the gift of cannabis. Michael Thompson, now 69, was sentenced to more than 30 years in prison after selling a few pounds of marijuana in 1994. He’s imprisoned in Michigan – a state with legal cannabis today. Thompson isn’t up for parole until he’s in his 80s. 

There are more than 40,000 Black and Brown American cannabis prisoners with stories similar to Michael’s. Prisoners are watching from behind bars as more states legalize cannabis, and business owners and municipalities profit off a plant and industry without their participation.

This amid the backdrop of a pandemic that’s put prisoners at risk.

“People serving prison time for cannabis offenses will be at increased risk of dying from the virus, as prisons are the perfect confluence of conditions to spread infectious disease, and typically have substandard health care. Whether someone agrees with legalization or not, nearly all of us would agree that a cannabis offense should never be a death sentence.” -Kris Krane, Forbes

Fortunately, individuals and organizations have stepped up to advocate for Black cannabis prisoners and Black participation in the cannabis industry.

Colorado’s Black Cannabis Equity Initiative is focused on building opportunity, equity, diversity, and inclusion in our cannabis industry (we recently sat down with the founder and CEO, John Bailey – check it out here). And organizations and individuals are working toward the expungement of low-level cannabis convictions in Colorado. 

Black and Brown Colorado citizens shouldn’t carry the stigmatization and burden for the past conviction of an “offense” that’s no longer considered a crime. Our industry has a responsibility to work toward racial justice, and it’s never been more urgent to release cannabis prisoners from their cells.

Here’s what Lightshade is doing to help.

Even in Colorado, Black and Brown Americans are unjustly sitting in prison cells for minor cannabis-related offenses. We’re doing our part to help expunge their low-level offenses and find gainful employment. Here’s how:

  • Our government affairs team contributed to the amendment pardoning cannabis prisoners in Colorado post-legalization.
  • We’re continually working to remove low-level cannabis convictions from impacted community member’s records.
  • We’ve partnered with the Color of Cannabis to host free expungement clinics for Colorado cannabis convictions. The clinics help attendees through the application process and include application preparation and review and notary services and legal consultations.

Lightshade Partner Highlight: The Color of Cannabis

The Color of Cannabis provides a pathway to restorative economic and criminal justice for communities negatively impacted by America’s War on Drugs. The organization represents the equitable interests of People of Color who want to participate in the regulated cannabis industry. They advocate for legislation, public safety, business education, and technical assistance to provide sustainable opportunities for People of Color in the cannabis industry. 

The Color of Cannabis is responsible for spearheading Colorado’s first and only Social Equity Cannabis legislation. Click here to learn more.

The Color of Cannabis also offers a ten-week social equity cannabis training program and an ancillary cannabis coworking space. 

There is power in legislation and policy, because, outside of capital (wealth), legislation is the cornerstone of our industry’s racial makeup. Lightshade is proud to partner with the Color of Cannabis and similar organizations committed to fostering diversity and inclusion in the cannabis industry.

Visit the Color of Cannabis to learn more: