"When it comes to marijuana commercialization, the new robber barons have arrived. They are wealthy investors in freshly tailored suits that pay lip service to social justice while putting marijuana stores on every street corner in Black communities." - Melissa Robbins (SAM), Hartford Courant
BIG TOBACCO 2.0
The tobacco industry has a long history of targeting communities of color. It is one of the primary reasons that local and state government officials took steps to ban menthol cigarettes. Similarly, the marijuana industry sees minority communities as profit centers.
Nearly 90% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, which are easier to smoke and harder to quit, thanks to the decades-long, aggressive marketing tactics employed by menthol cigarette makers. Cannabis is now being marketed in a huge array of flavors. In addition to targeting the African American market, these flavored products are especially enticing to youth.
Read Between the Lies exposed how top e-cigarette JUUL, which has driven the youth vaping epidemic and is partly owned by tobacco giant Altria, funded an after-school program which allowed them access to Black youth. JUUL proposed a school-based program in Marin, but was turned down.
In states that have legalized marijuana, minority youth are showing much larger increases in use of marijuana than their Caucasian counterparts.
Just as tobacco retailers and liquor stores have targeted lower-income communities as an important consumer-base, the marijuana industry seeks a similar base to establish addiction-for-profit businesses.
An overlay of socioeconomic data with the geographic location of pot shops in Denver shows marijuana stores are located disproportionately in disadvantaged neighborhoods. (Report on Lessons Learned from State Marijuana Legalization 2020-2021) These neighborhoods have complained to legislators about the disproportionate share of cannabis businesses in their communities, and the effect on their quality of life.
In Oregon, the state conducted an analysis on the distribution of state-sanctioned dispensaries and found that sites were disproportionately concentrated among low-income and historically disenfranchised communities. (Report on Lessons Learned from State Marijuana Legalization 2020-2021)
Yet, while these stores are heavily concentrated in disadvantaged areas, their ownership does not mirror the communities. In fact, nationally, less than 2% of all pot shops are owned by minorities of any community.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
Decriminalization may be about social justice, but cannabis commercialization is not. John Boehner, former Big Tobacco lobbyist and former Republican Speaker of the House, stands to make millions from federal legalization (which he once strongly opposed). The former CEO of Purdue Pharma, maker of Oxycontin, left to head up a cannabis company. Wealthy white investors and corporations are using issues of systemic injustice as a front while finding new ways to profit off more suffering.
In 2018, Altria, the parent company to Phillip Morris, invested over a billion dollars in marijuana and subsequently invested another several billion in Juul.
Prop 64 was widely promoted as a way to end the war on drugs. The inequities in arrests, however, still exist. Post-legalization data shows a disproportionate number of black people arrested on cannabis charges.
African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana in Colorado and Washington, both states that have legalized recreational use and sales.
A Washington Post analysis showed that although marijuana arrests have declined by more than half in DC, African Americans still accounted for just under 90 percent of those arrested on all pot-related charges, even though they made up only 45 percent of the city’s population.