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ART WAY JR.
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6:00 - 6:30 PM EST LIVE INTERVIEW FROM BLACK LOVE MURAL FESTIVAL WITH ROB GRAY (see page 41 for more on Rob)
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FOR UNITY BY BARBARA MELVIN
There have been so many recent tragedies we are witnessing on social media, TV, radio, and on our streets. My husband and I have lost many family members, friends, and associates due to COVID-19. We have also witnessed riots, statues being burned and toppled, looting, and communities being burned, as well as episodes of police brutality.
ing out for a better understanding of one another to create a path to unity and brotherly love.
When we look at the world today and all the negative that is being displayed, we can be bitter and hateful but what does that accomplish? â€“ Nothing. We look at all that darkness then what we see breaking through that darkness is, The Light of LOVE.
As the number of people traveling down the path to unity increases, the stronger that unity will become, and once strong, will protect us from those that wish to keep us divided.
Love and understanding are the two things that can be accomplished right now, and it does not cost anything. We see good police showing episodes of compassion and helpfulness. Peaceful protesting despite agitators. People who are troubled and confused by words and actions designed to create division are now reach-
LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING ARE THE TWO THINGS THAT CAN BE ACCOMPLISHED RIGHT NOW, AND IT DOES NOT COST ANYTHING.
Brotherly love outshines the darkness. It expresses the feeling of humanity and compassion toward one another. Continued interest and dialogue refereed by brotherly love will take us further down that path to unity.
Continued division is our Achillesâ€™ heel. Strength in unity is what we must reveal. We are the United States of America. The first two letters of the first two words does not say YOU; it does not say I; it says US. So let us travel down the Path to Unity to become one and let division be done.
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SUMMER 2020 10 DREAMER + DOER
ART WAY JR.
19 ENHANCING INTEGRITY
REP. LESLIE HEROD
18 CANNABIS JUSTICE IS RACIAL JUSTICE
36 THE HUMAN ELEMENT
41 SEIZING THE OPPORTUNITY TO
EDUCATE THE WORLD BLACK LOVE ART MURAL FESTIVAL
53 THE DIFFICULTIES FOR PEOPLE OF
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CONTRIBUTING WRITERS & COLUMNISTS
Barbara Melvin Ben Owens Bianka Anguian
Dawn Hayford, EdD Jordan Person, LPN, LMT
MEET BIANKA ANGUIANO.
Bianka is a first generation Mexican American born and raised in Long Beach, Ca. She graduated from the University of Houston, making her the first in her family with a college degree. She's a cannabis advocate for WeedQueens.co and an avid startup junkie. When she's not working or writing for Weed Queens, you can find her eating her mom's delicious food or hanging out and dancing with her friends. Bianka submitted her article “The Difficulties for People of Color Obtaining Funding in the Weed World” after seeing our Social Media campaign for stories of Discrimination and Cannabis. Please enjoy her contribution to this issue.
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ART WAY JR
DREAMER + DOER BY JORDAN PERSON
Recently GRAM sat down with Art Way Jr. owner of Equitable Consulting, the former Colorado State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), and police accountability advocate for the last 20 years. We wanted to hear his story and his thoughts on the civil rights movement currently taking place. “From the very beginning this country was built upon slavery and genocide, if you have a foundation like that, you simply won’t unwind from that because you pass Federal anti-discrimination acts. They say if you are in a bad relationship for 10 years, it will take you at least 5 years to overcome the trauma and negativity that it caused you. When you look at that in comparison to what has happened to black and brown people in America, it’s a toxic fucked up relationship for four centuries. It’s ingrained. It's only been 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation and it's only been 50 years since the last civil rights movement of the 60’s. This shit is going to take time. We are no longer dealing with issues of law and policy anymore. We are dealing with an ingrained culture.”
Art Way Jr. grew up in Colorado, in a neighborhood called Five Points and another called Park Hill. “I remember when officers used to wear penny loafers. When I was real young, I even remember them playing basketball with us, or playing football with us for a little bit. During that time, I remember being able to call a police officer to help you get a cat out of a tree. Then, when mass incarceration began to ramp up, they were no longer throwing balls around, they
were throwing us around. I was 15 in 1986 when things really went sideways, and police really started to be more about drugs and addiction, and federal dollars to engage in the drug war, as opposed to being civil servants.” Art grew up and went to school at Colorado University in Denver and received a degree in history. He then went to the Florida Coastal School of Law to receive his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree. Art had a calling for equality and justice. His career eventually led him to the Colorado Progressive Coalition. From 2008-2011, he served as the Racial Justice Director and ran their racial justice program that was focused on police accountability. “A lot of the work I did for that organization was in regards to looking to minimize the over criminalization of the black and brown communities through police accountability, so it was a natural intersection with the broader drug war. My work with CPC kind of put me on the map and in the right place to take on the job with DPA.” Art tells us. “We ran a hotline for police brutality, where people were allowed to call in and make complaints against arresting officers, a lot of it was direct service in that manner. I traveled all over the front range and helped people file complaints and then follow up on those complaints. I worked a lot with the Office of the Independent Monitor and the City of Denver, and the Citizen Oversight Board, and I was also able to force some legislation that attempted to really change police culture,” explains Art. “When a lot of people tried to assert their fourth amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures and say no to a search, that's when things would usually turn bad. So we were able to put forth legislation that essentially said that if an officer does not have probable cause to search someone, and instead is asking someone for consent, which is essentially that person waving their 4th amendment right, they have to tell the person they have the right to say no. At the time, it was maybe the second piece of police accountability legislation that had ever really passed in Colorado. It was the first consent search legislation of its kind that also covered pedestrians as well as motorists.” “Looking back and where we are now, we are actually at the ten year anniversary of that legislation and honestly, it seems kind of light weight. The goal was to slowly change the police culture, and remind them that people have constitutional rights and people have a right to tell police no. Many times, in the case of racial profiling, a lot of the pretextual stops 11
and searches that were going on were products of the drug war and police looking for contraband and that was really a large part of the reason racial profiling was so rampant, and we just wanted to slow that reality down a little bit. It was also an educational tool to remind people of their rights. We did a lot of ‘know your rights’ training in conjunction with that.” “I learned real quickly, even though I fell in love right then and there with legislative work, that it is really more about watchdogging a situation, it is not just about the legislation passing, especially if you are trying to police the police. It is one thing to get a bill passed, but then you truly have to stay on it; you have to watch closely; you have to reach out to the Attorney General's office and make sure it is being watched properly. It is one thing to get a bill passed through the legislature, but it's another thing that it actually changes the culture. When it comes to police accountability as well as the recent legislation here in Colorado (SB217), the goal is to change the culture. All of that is such a big lesson that I take with me throughout the rest of my social justice career,” Art tells us.
THE GOAL WAS TO SLOWLY CHANGE THE POLICE CULTURE, AND REMIND THEM THAT PEOPLE HAVE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS AND PEOPLE HAVE A RIGHT TO TELL POLICE NO. 12
“Right before I left CPC for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA,) we had started focusing on DA’s (District Attorney’s) and their behavior in basically allowing police to behave how they behaved. I was happy that 6 or 7 years later, DA’s really became a focal point, and people really began holding them accountable as part of police bureaucracy.” Art explains. Police bureaucracy is something that has been happening for centuries. DPA expanded in 2011 to Colorado, as the 5th state to have an office. The timing was perfect. They already had offices in New Jersey, New Mexico, California, and New
York. “It definitely coincided with the time of Amendment 64, the recreational legalization of cannabis in Colorado. DPA was about harm reduction, broader criminal justice reform in regards to drug policy, so that was the trifecta I found myself in.”
now, is that young people can take the lead, and the old folks like me can finally sit down and shut up a little bit, and learn from these young people that everything is possible,” says Art.
Organized policing was one of the many types of social controls imposed on enslaved African Americans. “My great grandfather and people like him were just killed and thrown in ditches and hidden and never talked about, then during the drug war they were able to kill us on camera with no problem,” says Art. “When it coms to slavery, the essence of it, and the residual of it, it remains in the police force to this day. That is how people need to look at it, we need to stop with this “bad apple” bullshit, it’s not about bad apples. It’s about a fucked up, permeating, and pervasive culture that ruins all the apples once they get into it. We are in this now for a marathon. Simply changing laws and policy is not going to change what has been ingrained into this country.
“The most influential policy change that can happen in regards to police accountability is definitely disbanding or defunding the police. This is not saying that we will not have anymore police. It is saying let's sit down at the table and forget how much money we are going to give you all, and for what. Let’s figure out your hiring practices, and let’s get back to being civil servants, and peace keepers instead of some militarized force. We have gutted our mental health and behavioral health systems for the last 50 years. They (police) are doing things they are not trained to do. If we put money into an actual safety net to take care of our most vulnerable then we wouldn’t have created this huge system of mass incarceration, and having police dealing with things they really shouldn’t be dealing with.”
“The protests reflect the frustration, and protests may or may not always lead to policy change. But, the overall goal with social justice is to change people’s paradigm. These protests really reflect that changing paradigm and the shift and change that is currently happening. In 20 years of being a police accountability advocate, I never even thought about a police reform bill at the Federal level. It never even crossed my mind, now there are a couple of bills. One is being pushed in the House and one in the Senate. What is great about these protests right
“Drugs and addiction, whether legal or illegal, is one of the biggest markets in the world. It costs money to fight it, and it creates bureaucracy, and it creates corruption, and it's the reason law enforcement has lost touch. Thinking back to the 19th century officer, Sir Robert Peel and the policing policies he created back then, that is the kind of policing we need to get back to. He was considered the ‘Father of Modern Policing.’ Officers needed direction and needed to know what to do, and so he created guidelines for officers to follow.” 13
9 POLICING PRINCIPLES AS WRITTEN BY SIR ROBERT PEEL
To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment. To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavior, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect. To recognize always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing cooperation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws. To recognize always that the extent to which the cooperation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives. To seek and preserve public favor, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humor, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public cooperation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence. To recognize always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty. To recognize always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.
START LOCALLY, DEFUNDING THE POLICE IS A LOCAL ISSUE
People throughout this country are confused, frustrated, and scared, and many just want to know where to turn their energy and efforts to in order to advance this movement. Art recommends, “Start locally, defunding the police is a local issue, more than it is a state issue. Check out Campaign Zero for resources, they are an excellent place to start. Some areas may not be ready for that conversation yet but what they do have to discuss with you is local policy. I think city council and county commissioners are your first goals, you can go to them and demand that the local police force revise their use of force policy. Get rid of the choke holds, no longer allow the doctrine that allows lethal force, and use of force.” “I also suggest people start to work with behavioral and public health organizations and think about how we can change the police's rules of engagement, and what they are actually there to do. Mental health professionals will often respond with an officer, so that part of the public health community really needs to speak up. They are the best group of people to help identify where the money should be reallocated to if the police are defunded. They should be at the front of the conversation. We need to get back to a culture of de-escalation and providing services instead of that command and control culture. If all cities want is arrests, and fines and fees, then that will be difficult. Right now they have an opportunity to be real allies and make real change possible.” The recent events of peaceful protests around the nation seem to be having an effect. At least here in Colorado with the passing of “SB 217, Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity.” When it came time for the Senate and House to hear the bill, testimonies
from people in the community came pouring in. One of those people that went on record was Mr. Way. “I told them my story, I told them that I have been a victim of police abuse since I was 11 years old. I have had a gun put to my head three times in my life, and the first time was at 11 years old and it was by a police officer. He was doing it simply because he could. So I told those lawmakers my story that day; I let them know that everything within SB217 was long overdue and that nothing should be considered radical. Essentially, I explained that the police had been running amuck for years and that it was time for change,” said Art. He adds, “There needs to be an organization formed to engage and be a serious watchdog over the next two or three years to ensure that the policy changes from SB217 really becomes implemented.” If your goal is to make the world a better place to live in for yourself and for your children, and your children’s children, please listen to these sage words of advice: “Get out of our comfort zones, have those uncomfortable conversations with the people in your family and your kids that need to hear them. We need to do what we can to shape each other’s paradigm. We need to look at what is needed, from a social justice perspective, to actually make the world a better place. We need to bring forth the ideals of our constitution and bring back the ideas that started this country and once made it great. Get out of your comfort zone. Be open to hearing one another; be open to what we are seeing; minimize the cynicism, and really dream big. Ultimately, that is what everyone needs to do. If you never dream big, then big things won’t happen.”
BE OPEN TO HEARING ONE ANOTHER; BE OPEN TO WHAT WE ARE SEEING; MINIMIZE THE CYNICISM, AND REALLY DREAM BIG. ULTIMATELY, THAT IS WHAT EVERYONE NEEDS TO DO. IF YOU NEVER DREAM BIG, THEN BIG THINGS WONâ€™T HAPPEN.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act) is the most sweeping marijuana reform bill ever in Congress. Removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, decriminalizing it at the federal level and enabling states to set policies.
Takes steps to make the marijuana industry more diverse and inclusive.
Creates a Cannabis Justice Office to reinvest in communities harmed by the war on drugs and give them a chance to be involved in the industry.
Learn what else the MORE Act does and tell Congress to support it at www.drugpolicy.org/MOREAct.
INTEGRITY BY JORDAN PERSON
No one knew that the tragic event that took place on May 25, 2020 would lead to a worldwide civil rights movement. Police brutality has sadly gone on in this country for centuries, specifically to minorities and people of color, and the death of George Floyd was the last straw for everyone. People were tired of being in their homes due to the coronavirus and then the news shifted and played a video over and over again showing a man, begging for his life. This was not the first time we have seen such a video in the United States, but finally, people are taking a stand.
IN COLORADO, THE LEGISLATORS SAW WHAT WAS HAPPENING TO THEIR CITIES AND KNEW THAT THE TIME FOR A CHANGE IN POLICY WAS NOW.
In Colorado, the death of George Floyd led to a protest with thousands of people, shouting “no justice, no peace, no justice, no peace!” These protests lasted for weeks after his passing. Hundreds continued to gather every single day in honor of all the recent black lives that passed. Tributes were made, art was created, tears were shed daily on the Capitol steps. Parts of the Capitol, Civic Center Park (in front of the Capitol,) as well as many other nearby places in Denver were damaged with graffiti and various forms of vandalism, including many broken windows and trash can fires. It was very clear that the people of Colorado were fed up. Over the next couple of weeks, every major city in the US and several places throughout the world followed suit and peacefully protested systemic racism. But what did these protests do? In Colorado, the legislators saw what was happening to their cities and knew that the time for a change in policy was now. Representative Leslie Herod is responsible for District 8: Denver, Colorado. Her constituents were gathering daily on the Capitol steps, and they were joined by people from neighboring cities and states. They made their point very clear—something needed to be done to enhance the integrity of the police force. With the assistance of fellow Prime Sponsors, Representative Herod sat down and got to work on the piece of legislation that would become “SB 217, Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity.” Representative Herod tells us, “I am the vice chair of the judiciary committee, and I already worked a lot on policing and criminal justice issues and mass incarcerations. I was specifically looking at a bill to address the local cases we had here in Colorado with Elijah McLain and De’Von Bailey. I had a bill drafted but did not have support to get it introduced through the COVID season. So basically what we did was shelve it, but because of the cries of the protestors for justice and change, we were able to add a lot of really important components to the bill, introduce it, and then have it pass.” While speaking with Representative Herod, I took note of how excited she sounded when talking about how many people reached out to their legislators. As someone who has spent time working towards advancing cannabis policy, I know how difficult it is to make a massive letter writing campaign be effective. I am proud of the people of Colorado for showing up in big numbers. Representative Herod explains, “The number of people who wrote, and called, and reached out to their legislators was something I had never seen before. The people who showed up to testify and even to protest outside, it was
more than I had ever seen. It was definitely the reason I feel we were able to get this (SB217) passed with such bipartisan support. I do think that we may not have had that same type of support if we did not have so much support from the community.” It is important to realize, “Protests do lead to policy change. It is the sustained process to make it work. What I will say is that I speak a lot with the families and victims here in Colorado, and they are frustrated that it took this before people would show up and support their kids that died. I had to feel ready and like we were in a good place for the introduction of this bill, the protests allowed me to push the bill the way it needed to be pushed. George Floyd was not the reason for this bill, however the protest
helped immensely, but I have been ready because of the kids we have lost here in Colorado. They are not left out of this conversation,” says Representative Herod. I think the most important thing anyone can realize right now is that “This is more than a moment, this is a movement.” Representative Herod speaks such powerful words. She leaves us with this advice, “If you are in elected office and/or if you are a person in a position of power, it is really incumbent upon you right now to begin to address systemic racism right now. If you don’t, people will show up and protest and demand change. As an elected official, I think it is important for people to really think about what is going on right now and think about ways to change.”
To everyone wanting to understand systemic racism and how to advance this movement as a whole, “Keep speaking out, keep showing up. Don’t try to give us your emotional weight; try and take some of it off of us. Don’t give us your race burdens, instead take action. Protest, write to your elected officials, don’t expect us to explain race to you, just be there to support us, even something simple as buying someone lunch and expecting nothing in return.” Police reform is needed now more than ever and Colorado is on the cutting edge of what that policy should look like. It is this author’s hope that more states adopt legislation like SB217 and make it their own.
SB20-217 ENHANCE LAW ENFORCEMENT INTEGRITY “CONCERNING MEASURES TO ENHANCE LAW ENFORCEMENT INTEGRITY, AND, IN CONNECTION THEREWITH, MAKING AN APPROPRIATION.” NO MORE CHOKE HOLDS - choke holds and carotid control holds are now banned. Officers can only use force if absolutely necessary and deadly force can’t be used against someone for a minor or nonviolent offense. THE NEED TO INTERVENE - Officers will be protected from retaliation if they intervene. An officer who fails to try to stop another from using excessive force could face a class 1 misdemeanor or greater charge. BODY CAMERAS - By July 1, 2023 all officers in the state of Colorado, with the exception of some administrative positions, undercover officers, and correctional officers under view of other cameras will be required to wear body cameras. Police who purposely tamper with or turn off their camera, can now face criminal charges for doing so. POLICE PROSECUTIONS - state Attorney general has the authority to prosecute persistently bad departments and officers. DATA TRACKING - Agencies who don’t provide the required data and information could put their funding in jeopardy. State data will include: their use of force resulting in serious injury or death as well as stops, unannounced entries and use of firearms and demographic information. PROTECTING PROTESTORS - Shooting rubber bullets indiscriminately into a crowd as well as targeting rubber bullet shots at someone’s head, torso or back is prohibited. As is the use of pepper spray or tear gas, before announcing it will be sprayed to the crowd and allowing time for them to disperse from the area. BAD COPS - If an officer has been found guilty of a crime of inappropriate use of force, failure to intervene to stop excessive force, or found civilly liable for excessive force, or failure to intervene, will lose their Peace Officer Standards and Training board certification permanently. 23
MOMENTUM FOR CHANGE
Change doesnâ€™t happen in the blink of an eye. We have to build momentum. We have our momentum now: Addressing mental illness with treatment, not jail time.
Reforms that decriminalize and recognize new treatment options for illnesses. Ensuring all voices are elevated, not just the privileged few.
Please donate to the
Herod Leadership Fund, so together we can help our champions push forward. Because progress canâ€™t wait any longer.
Help Keep Momentum: LeslieHerodForColorado.com LeslieForColorado @LeslieHerod LeslieHerod Scan this QR code with your smartphone to support progressive champions
Paid for by the Herod Leadership Fund. Registered Agent: Megan Lyda.
In these unprecedented times everyone is having to figure out how to keep going and that includes GRAM. You can find the full digital issue along with easy-to-read, mobile-friendly articles on our website. We will be back in print as soon as we can. You can always get GRAM now.
CANNABIS JUSTICE IS RACIAL JUSTICE BY DR. DAWN HAYFORD
“Ever since Harry Anslinger implemented [cannabis prohibition] in the United States, it’s main purpose has been a method of racial control by white people over communities of color and that continues to this day. We will not have racial justice in this country without cannabis justice and vice versa,” says Steve DeAngelo, the Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry. GRAM spoke with Steve, the founder of Last Prisoner Project.1 He shared with us the mission and programs that drives Last Prisoner Project, as well as the stories of two specific men they are working to help. “Michael Thompson is in the 26th year of a 40-60 sentence for selling three lbs. of cannabis to an informant in 1994. After he was arrested, the cops went to Michael’s residence which he shared with his mother and his wife. And they went into a locked gun cabinet, they opened the cabinet and found some antique rifles that had belonged to Michael’s
father. On those grounds, they said it was a gun crime, and because Michael had a couple of other minor offenses that had happened during this very intense street enforcement on the ground in the 1990’s in Flint, MI. Now he’s 68 years old; he has pre-existing medical conditions that make him more vulnerable to COVID, and COVID is present in the prison he’s incarcerated in. So we are desperately concerned that Michael is going to get COVID and potentially die, and his already outrageous sentence turns into a death sentence. There are two petitions on Governor Whitmer’s desk for his release right now. One is a compassionate release for COVID; one is a clemency request; those requests for release have been endorsed by the Flint Prosecutor’s Office which is the office that originally prosecuted Michael (that’s something that never ever happens), but Governor Whitmer continues to sit on Michael’s petition; each day exposing him to a possible death sentence,” Steve continues. “There’s dozens and dozens of other cannabis prisoners who are facing similarly long sentences on equally bogus charges.”
This Nov. 2, 2017 photo released by the Michigan Department of Corrections shows Michael Thompson, who is incarcerated at the Muskegon, Mich., Correctional Facility. (Photo: Michigan Department of Corrections via Associated Press)
Steve says, “Our position is that nobody anywhere in the world ever deserved to be arrested for cannabis charges and that nobody ever deserved to be in prison on cannabis charges. We don’t care what the amount was; we really don’t care what the “complicating factors” were. The reality of it is it’s not our constituents who are the criminals. The real criminals are the people who passed these laws and enforce these laws.” Corvain Cooper is serving a federal sentence of life without parole in Louisiana for a cannabis conviction because he had two minor charges on his record in the state of California that at one time qualified him for the three strikes law, but since he earned those convictions, the law has been revised, and the crimes that he was convicted for are no longer crimes that make you eligible for three strikes. “Yet, Corvain faces spending the rest of his life in prison when it’s really obvious that that is a grossly unjust thing,” says Steve. Steve says, “Last Prisoner Project has a very single-minded mission, a very singular focus quite deliberately. There’s a lot of organizations who are working on cannabis reform in general, on legislation, who are working on equity and racial justice issues specifically. Our focus is even more narrow. We just want to make sure that every single cannabis prisoner on planet Earth comes home to their families and is given the resources they need to build the lives that were stolen from them. We are interested in further reform, we’re interested in legislative stuff, that’s not where we put our energy, we let other organizations focus there. We just want to get prisoners out.” Within the first year of its inception, Last Prisoner Project figured out that there are about 40,000 people in prison for cannabis convictions in the United States. They still don’t know the world-wide total. “It’s many many times the 40,000,” says Steve. “Once we had our hands around the problem, the size of it, and where it was located, then we started thinking about the most effective ways that we could get the largest number of prisoners released in the shortest period of time with the funds that were available to us.” Last Prisoner Project has a couple of programs that achieve that objective. Steve tells us, “One of them is our clemency program which works with governor’s offices in legal cannabis states to develop a set of standard parameters that would allow the governor, at the stroke of a pen, to release hundreds or even (depending on the state) thousands of cannabis prisoners.” There are currently about 50 people in the United States serving sentences of life without parole for cannabis convictions. “For most of them, their cases are complicated and are challenging for governors to give clemency to. So we do know that--unfortunately, in some cases--we are going to have to raise the funds 28
THE REALITY OF IT IS ITâ€™S NOT OUR CONSTITUENTS WHO ARE THE CRIMINALS. THE REAL CRIMINALS ARE THE PEOPLE WHO PASSED THESE LAWS AND ENFORCE THESE LAWS.
that are necessary to mount a new legal defense for people who have already (in some cases) been in prison for decades. It’s a very expensive proposition to do that; it's a very time consuming proposition to do that; it’s an absolutely necessary thing to do.” The second program within the Last Prisoner Project is the Prison to Prosperity Pipeline. “We want to make sure that when our constituents are released that they have a support network that is sufficient to make sure that their reentry is successful,” says Steve. That involves
housing, training, and finding employment. Last Prisoner Project is already serving their constituents through this program and recently hired a full time staff member to administer the program. “We have a few different ways that we work to fund those programs. Our ‘Roll it up for justice’ program asks cannabis retailers to ask cannabis consumers to make a donation at the end of their cannabis purchase, to at least round up to the next dollar from their cannabis purchase.” Steve states that the program spreads the bur-
den out widely across the whole cannabis community and doesn’t call on anybody too much. “We encourage cannabis retailers to participate in the program, and we encourage cannabis consumers to patronize the dispensaries that do participate in that program. In a similar vein, we have our ‘Partners for Freedom’ program. This program allows cannabis companies other than retailers (growers, manufacturers, etc.) to make a commitment to be a sustaining partner for the Last Prisoner Project, and they earn the ability to put the Last Prisoner Project logo
82% OF THE ARRESTS FOR THE WAR
ON DRUGS WERE FOR CANNABIS POSSESSION
on all the packages of all of their products. The idea being that we want cannabis consumers to have ways that they can support the companies that are supporting the community.” “We are in a unique time in this country right now. That’s put a fresh lens on law enforcement and what’s been going on with law enforcement over the course of the last two decades in the United States. And what many people don’t realize is that stop and frisk, cops on the ground in black and brown communities harassing
people has been justified and driven by cannabis prohibition. 82% of the arrests for the war on drugs were for cannabis possession.” Learn more about Steve DeAngelo and how he earned the moniker “The Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry” in an upcoming issue of GRAM. In the meantime follow @lastprisonerproject on social media and keep up with Steve on his new podcast: Radio Free Cannabis.
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THE HUMAN ELEMENT:
BY DR. DAWN HAYFORD
Cruel Consequences: Portraits of Misguided Law1 works with people who have dealt with the consequences of cannabis stigma and criminalization, even in states where it is legal. GRAM spoke with the founder, Tamara Netzel. She takes photos of the people and tells their stories as an antithesis to mugshots and the snippet you would read in the newspaper from the police report. Trenice is one of fifteen stories Tamara currently has, and she is working on more. After attending a congressional hearing in Washington D.C., Tamara and her friend got an Uber to head home. Under normal circumstances, Tamara gives her business card out and does a whole pitch to almost everyone she meets, but she was tired. Her friend grabbed her business card and did the whole speech to the Uber driver. “He pulled out his cell phone and he dialed Trenice’s phone number, before he could even explain why, he was handing the phone to me, and said ‘You gotta talk to my niece.’ And that’s how I got her story.” 37
Trenice is a 29 year old DJ who goes by the handle, TriggaTre. She began using cannabis at the suggestion of a friend. At the time, she was addicted to opioids and smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. “In three months, she was able to wean herself off the opioids with cannabis,[... and have] zero cravings for nicotine.” Tre also found that the cannabis helped with aggression issues caused by the opioids. “She remembers being shocked by her own ability now for self-control when she was being provoked to fight.” Tre was helping a friend move, and they were stopped by the police 38
when a helmet dislodged from the trailer they were pulling. Due to an outstanding warrant, the entire vehicle was searched and Tre was charged with possession with intent to distribute. Maryland law allows officers to include the weight of the container as part of the total cannabis weight. The cannabis found was being stored in a mason jar. “She spent 3 months in the Montgomery County Jail, including a 23 hour lockdown in solitary confinement.” Tamara was driven to share the stories of marijuana criminalization after she was introduced to med-
ical cannabis to treat her multiple sclerosis. “I knew I didn’t fit the description of people who are disproportionately targeted for marijuana charges. At that point, I realized I had two choices: I could just be satisfied with my own white privilege, or I could try to use that privilege for good,” she said. “The charge follows you. That’s what Cruel Consequences is about. Whether someone has gone to prison or not or served any jail time at all, a charge will follow you, as all of our stories attest to, our evidence. It never lets you go, because of the stigma. No matter
BECAUSE IT’S MARIJUANA, IT’S ALWAYS UP-CHARGED, EVEN IN LEGAL STATES. IT’S AN ABUSE OF POWER AND AN ABUSE BY LAW ENFORCEMENT
whether the state has legalized or what law reforms in that state have happened, there are still people being criminalized and followed and harassed for the rest of their lives because of one charge. [...] Because it’s marijuana, it’s always up-charged, even in legal states. It’s an abuse of power and an abuse by law enforcement,” Tamara says. “It’s a lifetime sentence. That’s what we do as a society. You hear somebody has gone to prison, we don’t worry about it after that. But we don’t think about the people after, if they served any time at all--even if they haven’t.” “There are these little laws that trap people for life. We’re talking a lot about slavery these days and what the ramifications of slavery are. And honestly, this is a form of slavery; this is racial bias at the heart of marijuana criminalization. What our project is focused on is those collateral consequences is in a sense, it’s like branding human beings for life as criminals. It sets them up for failure: denied employment, denied housing, denied college loans, just because they have a charge. And then society has the audacity to then say to these people, ‘Hey, why can’t you do better in life? Look at you, you can’t even get a job.’ But they don’t realize that they’ve been set up to fail.” “Where we have worked best is going to civic groups in areas where marijuana law reform and education is scarce,” said Tamara. Cruel Consequences was featured at the Virginia Cannabis Summit hosted by Attorney General Mark Herring and at the Marijuana and the Impact on Communities event held by Commonwealth’s Attorney for Loudon County, Buta Biberaj. “We’re trying to get people to have conversations and have a safe environment to have those conversations. Education is scarce, and the bias and the stigma are very very thick. If you can make people feel comfortable about talking, whether they have a story about marijuana or they don’t have a story about marijuana, and they’re on the other side, if you can get people to talk about it, I think that we can solve some things.” Follow @cruelconsequences on social media. If you have a story to share or want to support Cruel Consequences, check out her website: www.cruelconsequences.org. 1.http://cruelconsequences.org/
T G ZI N
D L R O W E H T E
P O HE
T A UC
T R PO
Y T I UN
HOW AN INNERCITY KID FROM CHICAGO USED ART + CANNABIS TO TAKE DENVER BY STORM IN CELEBRATION OF BLACK LOVE, BLACK ART, + BLACK LIVES. BY BEN OWENS
The Black Love Mural Festival may seem like a simple play on Black Lives Matter efforts, but it is much more than your typical mural walk. It is the evolution of years of effort on behalf of its curator, Robert Gray. Gray is more commonly known by his brand, Rob The Art Museum, a concept that came to him during some of his earliest visits to art museums in the midwest. Robâ€™s life journey has taken him across the country, all in the pursuit of living a life that allowed him to enjoy cannabis and give back to his local and global community.
WHO IS ROB THE ART MUSEUM? Robert Gray, founder and curator of Rob The Art Museum, is originally from Chicago, Illinois. When he was in his early teens, he moved to Milwaukee. “I’m from Chicago, but I claim that I’m from Milwaukee, because that’s where a lot of my friends were when I grew up as a teenager,” Rob explains. It’s also where Rob was first introduced to contemporary and fine art, thanks to a newly built art museum, the same one that was featured in the Transformers movie series. “Milwaukee is really where I got into art. That’s where a lot of it started. I would try to get away from the city, running around, doing shit I wasn’t supposed to, and it was when they first built the art museum...it was this big beautiful white art museum that looked like a boat right off the lake. So when they built it, I was like ‘this looks cool, let me go try it.’” Not only did he notice the beauty of the art he was enjoying, but he also found respite in the lack of familiar faces. “Milwaukee was a small city...Like if you go to Walmart, you’re going to see someone from middle school, high school; you’re going to run into someone. So this was like the one place I never ran into someone who was from where I was from. So it was like a different scene. it was very peaceful... But I always wanted to smoke blunts and be in an art museum at the same time. And I never thought it would be possible.” This idea would stick with him and eventually be the seed that grew into Rob The Art Museum. “It was always in the back of my head [and] that was kind of like where Rob The Art Museum started. I wanted people to have the same emotional reaction that I was having. I was having a spiritual reaction, a physical reaction, an emotional reaction when I was seeing these beautiful pieces of artwork, and it was like my first time really seeing any contemporary art…growing up in the city, we had art programs but it was like children’s art. Paint and paper. That was art, but I really never saw art like fine art growing up where I came from.” The impression it left on him left him wanting to share those feelings with others. “So I was walking in an art museum and was like ‘Damn, I want to get this artwork out to my people who can’t afford–because it costs money to get into the art museum. If they can’t afford to get into the art museum, they definitely can’t afford anything on the walls. So how can I get this art out to the people? Rob The Art Museum. That’s kinda like where everything started. I was like ‘Oh, that’s funny. Like a double entendre with my name.’ But even then I did it like ‘I wish I could rob the art museum because I know that work is worth a lot. It doesn’t seem like 43
they got top notch security either. I think a bank would be more difficult. Seemed like a good return on investment.’” CHASING PROMOTIONS WITH NO END IN SIGHT Rather than going through with this fantasy of robbing a museum, Rob ended up like many of us—in a job where he was simply chasing promotion after promotion. This led him from Milwaukee to Minneapolis to Kansas City. As he neared the age of 30, Rob realized his love of cannabis and his distaste for the promotional path meant he needed to reevaluate his pursuits. “My passions were weed and art, and I was in Kansas City, and it’s an 8 hour trip [to Colorado], and I’m over here buying weed in gas stations from people who looked like they smoked weed,” Rob explains. “I didn’t have any friends out there. But I was like he looks like he smokes weed, so I’m going to ask him, ‘bro you know where the weed at?’…One day I just packed up my bags and went to Colorado and just tried to figure everything out. That was three years ago.” THE MILE HIGH MOVE When he arrived in Colorado, Rob quickly joined the legal cannabis industry, becoming a budtender, but not before a life-changing car accident would further call into question his decision to move to the mile high state. “When I first moved out here, I was staying on the couch at my brother’s house just trying to figure everything out and one day after I got done smoking like a blunt, I just went to go get food. So I jumped in the car with my friend, she was driving, and we’re going up the way and a drunk driver came out of nowhere and hit us in a head on collision. I was really shooken up...So I ended up going to the ER, and it was a 44
traumatizing experience because I didn’t have like anyone really out here with me. Me and my brother were going through some trials and tribulations...I didn’t have any other family out here. I was in the ER emergency room thinking I was about to lose my vision. And also thinking about being paralyzed because I just got into an accident. I couldn’t feel my legs anymore... “So, long story short…I have a disability now where like my vision isn’t there in my right eye. It’s crazy that I’m involved in art and my vision is fucked up. And I was going to City, O’ City, which is one of the partners of this festival and the accident happened like right up the street [from Civic Park/City, O’ City]... It’s funny how this has all come full circle, and that’s how I started my trip off in Denver. I was about to go home. I was like ‘Fuck this shit man. I just got in the worst car accident of my life. I don’t have a job. Like, I’m not going to be able to get a job now being injured. I don’t have insurance.’ I was just going to give it all up and go back home and figure shit out.” After the accident, Rob began smoking cannabis with a specific medical intent. “I was on prescriptions because I was in a bad car accident, all opioids,” he recalls. “Back home, I was smoking weed because, not because it was the cool thing to do but because I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t for a medicinal purpose at that point. Maybe PTSD, but I was smoking weed just like every high school kid did. And this was the first time that I needed it to like actually relieve this pain, this unbearable pain. So it is great to be in a legal state and have legal access to it.” CANNABIS AS A CAREER As a budtender, Rob quickly learned the legal can-
nabis industry had its issues with race. He says it was a great experience as far as learning, but the work culture was toxic, comparing it to working as a cashier at a bad McDonald’s. “I got called the N Word by someone my first time working there. So it was like fuck, this shit’s shitty. There’s racism everywhere. But I just rode it out. I addressed it with corporate, and they handled it how I expected so that was nice. But budtending wasn’t for me.” While corporate worked to fix internal issues, Rob found an opportunity selling concentrates for another company, Craft Concentrates. He recalls the experience being novel, giving he was selling weed on the phone legally, but it was a cold-calling effort and was hard to get accounts that weren’t already carrying the product, something he likens to selling cars. During his time with Craft, he was also doing humanitarian work on the side like park cleanups and feeding the homeless in places like Denver’s RiNO art district, which gave him a positive way to give back and an alternative focus to cold calls. “My mom always told me that it’s important that you give back. And I feel like inside, if you’re taking from a community, you should give back to that community.” One day, Craft was going to move offices and throw away all of the food in the refrigerator. Rob asked if he could have it. Knowing he was a vegan, they questioned what he would do with all of the meats and dairy products, and he told them he planned to cook it and make meals for the homeless with it. After that, they started to take note of his efforts, making him Head of the Communications department, with the entire focus of giving back to the community. 45
While this new opportunity was progressive for the cannabis industry, differing views on what “giving back to the community” actually meant, would lead Rob to end that chapter and, as he describes it, “circle back to smoking blunts in the art museum.” His pop up art shows were beginning to take off. POP UP ART SHOWS The Rob the Art Museum pop up art show is a cannabis-friendly, art event with vegan-friendly foods highlighted, non mainstream, undiscovered and underrepresented artists. It started a wave that would eventually take the efforts nationwide. “Now that I had a decent job [with Craft] that could fund my crazy ideas that I had, I used that money to rent an AirBnB because I wanted to make a cannabis-friendly art museum, and I couldn’t do that with the Denver Art Museum. So I rented out an AirBnB. It was four stories, had six different bed rooms, and I curated each room to be like a different theme.” Rob recalls approaching as many artists as possible on their Instagrams, only hearing back from about one in ten. They had a bunch of vegan food, good legal cannabis to enjoy, and he invited as many people as possible to see all of the art that he’d hung throughout the house. “We lost money the first time, but it was fun. People came out, and it was fun. I was like ‘I’m going to keep doing it.’” His friends could not believe he was going to do it again, taking all the time and money to coordinate the event. But Rob valued being top of mind regularly with the audience. “Consistency is key; I knew we had to keep doing it so that people would take it seriously,” reiterating that it wasn’t a “one off” event due to its somewhat random and unprecedented nature. Eventually, Rob ended up throwing one of the larger afterparties at the Indo Expo 2019 in Denver, inviting cannabis influencers to an art, cannabis, and smoke-friendly affair with good vegan food and good vibes. The next month, he repeated the event for his birthday party, telling his friends to come out and smoke with him since the AirBnB owner was allowing him to use the property. By March, they were actually focusing on art curation as the focal point of the event and starting to make a few hundred bucks each time. 4/20, PRIVATE EVENTS, & HIGH TIMES With April came the annual celebration plans for 4/20, and Rob’s intention to use the AirBnB came to a halt when he received a letter ordering him to cease and desist because the owner had listed the location’s address publicly. The event had to be private to allow 46
consumption according to Colorado law, and Rob was forced to make very public statements that the event was cancelled. For those in the know, the event still went on, but in a much more private manner. After this issue due to a technicality, Rob was invited to throw pop up events under his moniker around the country at High Times events. He traveled to Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a variety of large metro areas, setting up his museum and spreading the brand nationally. Denver may have taken a backseat, but as he became more introduced to the art scene and the people within, a chance encounter at a Denver Dispensary would be the seed that became the Black Love Mural Festival months later. BLACK LOVE MURAL FESTIVAL (BLMF) After efforts with High Times came to a close, the transition to Rob upping his art efforts in the festival scene was an almost seamless transition. He met Annie, the owner of IRL Art, and they exchanged contact information when he learned she worked with Meow Wolf. They did big festival installations at Far Out Factory, Sonic Bloom, Arise, Gem and Jam, and similar events. Rob eventually secured a spot working with her in October 2019, and became CMO of IRL Art in February. “Black Love Mural Festival started with being in festivals with [Annie],” Rob explains. “These are all
her walls that we bought,” motioning to the black plywood board structures around civic park that were constructed in mere hours. Originally, the idea for the festival had stemmed from a park cleanup effort. One of Rob’s friends knew he was involved in park cleanups and asked for some help overseeing efforts to clean up after protests in Denver. During the cleanup, Rob invited a local artist to live paint a mural to help lighten the mood, and the idea to create walls that could be painted on while also protecting local landmarks came to fruition, initially dubbed “Protect The Park.”
“I didn’t know this was possible,” Rob explains of the mobile mural walls, “to take plywood and build into portable walls and have artists come out and do these big pieces, I didn’t know it was possible.” Originally, Rob had wanted to do a large scale art installation in small scale neighborhood parks to bring the beauty and influence of art into communities that wouldn’t otherwise see it. When the opportunity to take that approach and do it in the center of Denver happened, Rob couldn’t help but seize it. After a quick pitch to local officials and the Mayor of Denver, Rob and
his business partner hammered out a proposal and secured funds for the initial effort. “I want to make sure that black people aren’t blamed for what’s happening,” explains Rob of the motivation behind the festival. “Because, no matter who does the vandalism, no matter who does the looting, it’s going to fall back on the Black Lives Matter movement because that’s what everything is focused around… I want to put a black face to the good that we are doing.” They pitched the idea as a dual-purpose initiative: for the city, they would protect the monuments using temporary structures to help minimize damage and vandalism. For the community, they would use the walls of these structures as blank canvases to showcase the love and art of Denver’s black c o m m u n i t y. Once approved, the structures had to be built. Rain and cleanups cut into setup time, leaving them less than 48 hours to have everything set up. Then, they set about recruiting artists, offering subsidies for supplies and starting a GoFundMe with the goal of raising $10,000 to pay all 30+ artists who have since become involved. As of the end of June, they have exceeded this goal. Asked how it is going, Rob offers a simple “Awesome.” He comments on the fact that this is the first art event he has been to—and for many of the artists participating— that was all black artists, saying normally there is that one token 47
black person, or maybe not even a single person of color, which prevents the artists from being themselves. He’s proud they have curated artists ranging in age from nine to sixty years old, and artists walked up off the street after seeing the news coverage, wanting to get involved in a positive art community that was bettering Denver. As with everything that has taken him this far, Rob is seizing the opportunity to educate his peers and his community at large about the beauty of black culture as well as the ways humans can be better about treating one another equally. OPPORTUNITIES & EDUCATION When asked how he has gotten to this point in his life, and what his advice is to others regarding treating one another better, his answers are the same: Education and Opportunities. Whenever an opportunity presents itself to learn, do so. Learn about other cultures. Learn about new thoughts. Learn about personal trials and tribulations. Seize opportunities to grow, to learn, and to advance yourself and society as a whole. If you have the opportunity to lift someone else up, do so. Specifically, Rob speaks to the burden placed on people of color by those who are well-intentioned but lazy in their efforts. Wanting to learn more about the ways your black friends or co-workers may have encountered microaggressions or outright racism is healthy and helps acknowledge and change patterns of behavior, but there is a plethora of information available for you to get background information. Walking up to a black person and asking them to simply describe their plight is both burdensome and shows a lack of effort, contrary to the intentions of the question. Similarly, if you look around and aren’t sure of how you can better the black community, or any community, consider the tools in front of you. Rob mentions the trade of a carpenter, and asks the head carpenter to look around at his team; do you see any black faces? No, maybe try to hire some? Not finding any qualified candidates of color? Maybe create the opportunity for an apprenticeship or an internship where a candidate who is otherwise high quality could learn the craft and help to make the industry more diverse. Rob’s main point is: there is always an opportunity to help your fellow human and to learn more about one another, and we should seize every chance we can to lift one another up, regardless of color, creed, gender, or other generalizing characteristic. The Black Love Mural Festival’s permit was extended through the end of July to allow for a longer display of the art and recognition of the black community. Rob is entertaining future ideas to not only bring the festival back annually, but hopefully to expand to other cities, and to preserve many of the pieces that were created in art galleries and museums, including those dedicated to preserving black art and history. 48
EDUCATE YOURSELF. DON’T JUST EXPECT TO BE EDUCATED. CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR OTHERS, EVEN IF THEY DON’T EXIST.
SEE IT LIVE IN DENVER, CO UNTIL JULY 30
MAKE SURE TO CHECK OUT AND FOLLOW ALL THE TALENTED ARTISTS PARTICIPATING IN THIS FANTASTIC EVENT.
PJ AND CRYSTAL
PJ AND CRYSTAL
BLACK LOVE MURAL VISIT FESTIVAL REFLECT ENGAGE SUPPORT Exhibit is currently open to the public at Civic Center Park August 7 Community Celebration
COMMEMORATIVE POSTER ON SALE NOW!
Order at BlackLoveMuralFestival.com where proceeds benefit the artists.
DENVER2020CO Follow @BlackLoveMuralFestival for more events & updates!
Festival Produced by @RobTheArtMuseium & @IRLart_
THE DIFFICULTIES FOR PEOPLE OF COLOR OBTAINING FUNDING IN THE WEED WORLD Originally posted: April 28, 2020 on weedqueens.co Edited by: Kimberly Morris
BY BIANKA ANGUIANO
Let’s be real, the cannabis industry is not as friendly and diverse as it claims to be to people of color. As an $11 billion industry monopolized by men and huge corporations, it’s not surprising that less than a fifth of marijuana business owners identify as racial minorities. Why aren’t there more POC opening dispensaries or starting marijuana businesses? A number of factors add to the lack of funding opportunities available for POC such as cannabis remaining a schedule one drug and federally illegal, a growing racial wealth gap, past convictions, and a lack of skills or expertise in the industry. But the biggest issue facing POC breaking into the marijuana industry is money. POC don’t have enough of it and don’t have generational wealth on their side as a source of financial support. These factors make it especially difficult for POC to get a marijuana business off the ground considering the mountain of costs associated with starting a new business.
% of Cannabis Industry Owners + Founders By Race
BREAKDOWN OF MARIJUANA BUSINESS OWNERS + FOUNDERS BY RACE 100% 80%
60% 40% 20% 0%
Note: Results reflect the percentage of repondents with any ownership stake in a marijuana business. Source: Marijuana Business Daily August 2017 reader survey Copyright 2017 Marijuana Business Daily, a division of Anne Holland Ventures Inc. All rights reserved.
In order to grow and sell cannabis legally, an application must be filed to attain a license which can cost up to $120,000. After adding business insurance, security, legal fees, taxes, marketing and rent , opening and running a cannabis business can cost millions of dollars, which is why POC more often seek investors or banks for financial support. However, as marijuana remains a schedule one drug under the Controlled Substances Act and federally illegal, banks and investors are hesitant to jump into this market. Both banks and investors that choose to do business with a marijuana business run the risk of being criminally prosecuted for “aiding and abetting” a federal crime as well as money laundering.
STARTUP COSTS AT A GLANCE Licensing/Application $5K Real Estate $100K ANNUAL RENT Professional Services $50K ANNUALLY Staffing $250K ANNUALLY Business Equipment $25K Security + Surveillance System $50K Marketing/Advertising $25K Product $1,500/lb Capital Requirements $150K Source: www.covasoft.com
A growing wealth gap between POC and our white counterparts is an added factor that contributes to the challenges of funding for minority business owners in the cannabis space. The wealth gap measures the difference between the median wealth of blacks versus the median wealth of whites. Wealth can be calculated by adding up total assets such as cash, retirement accounts, home, etc., then subtracting liabilities which can include credit card debt, student loans, and a mortgage among others. The total is going to yield net worth—arguably one of the best indicators of financial health. As of 2016, the average net worth of white families was almost 10 times more than of black and Latino families. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “More than one in four black households have zero or negative net worth, compared to less than one in ten white families without wealth.” Without money to fund a costly cannabis business, POC are falling behind in the marijuana industry and opportunities to make a profit as the wealth gap continues to widen.
Median Net Worth (in 2016 dollars)
WHITES’ NET WORTH IS SUBSTANTIALLY HIGHER THAN THE REST OF THE COUNTRY $200K
$125 $100 $75 $50 $25 $0
Source: Triennial Survey of Consumer Finances, The Washington Post
The legalization of cannabis has not stopped unjust and disparate policing of cannabis users, which has impacted the chances of the legal participation for POC in this market. According to the ACLU, “Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession;” this distressing statistic puts POC at a disadvantage for participation in the industry. In many states where cannabis is now legal, past convictions from a participant and the participant’s spouse, may disqualify them from applying for a cannabis business license, making participation in this market extremely difficult for communities who were targeted and affected most by the war on drugs. Despite the many barriers that face POC trying to break into this industry, we’re starting to see an increase in opportunities aimed at leveling the cannabis playing field. There are a number of organizations, like the Minority Cannabis Business Association dedicated to providing equity programs and resources for alternative funding, holding workshops to help POC develop and strengthen their business skills, and leading movements to expunge cannabis records and decriminalize marijuana and organizing. There is still a lot of work to do in order to make this industry an inclusive and diverse one, but together we can build a market that welcomes diversity instead of pushing it out.
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USING CANNABIS TO EMPOWER BLACK COMMUNITIES
“It’s clearly a very important time—a time of change for black and brown communities,” comments Al Harrington, founder of the premium cannabis brand Viola and former 16-season NBA star. “People are fed up. People are speaking up. And people are using their voices to invoke change to our society. At Viola, we’ve always been dedicated to supporting the minority voice with action to create change within our communities.”
Al, whose professional basketball career spanned two continents and the better part of two decades, has transitioned his focus into the alternative health and cannabis industries. He has also founded two other companies, Harrington Wellness and Butter Baby, his CBD and edible brands, respectively. As a professional basketball player, Al struggled with personal health issues that resulted in a plethora of prescriptions, all of which left him drowsy and unable to be at the top of his game. When he introduced cannabis, he noticed the changes it could have. And then, when his grandmother, Viola, whom the company is named after, struggled with severe glaucoma, Al stepped in and got her to try the plant, something that improved her quality of life drastically. This moment would put him on a path to found one of the more prominent Black-led cannabis companies that now operates in six state-legal cannabis markets. And, as a person of color, he’s had a unique insight into the evolution of cannabis and its relation to the role of race in society. Now, in the midst of more unrest regarding police brutality, profiling, and violence, Al speaks out about his personal experiences as a Black man in and out of the industry, as well as his commitment to helping underserved minority communities. FROM BASKETBALL TO CANNABIS As mentioned, Al was introduced to cannabis as a means of helping with chronic issues like knee problems and staph infections, but that wasn’t his first 56
BY BEN OWENS
interaction with the plant. He’d seen his peers use it even as a child, and had avoided it recreationally due to the threat of legal issues and negative perceptions surrounding its use. “Growing up in Jersey, I saw friends getting arrested for having weed on them, and I didn’t want any part of that,” reflects Al. “But as I got older, and when I first started using CBD oil for the treatment of basketball-related injuries, I immediately noticed the positive effects of the plant, and my perception changed. Once I started using cannabis, the thing that surprised me the most was how certain prescription drugs were being used and abused for the treatment of pain, but this plant with all of its medicinal values and effects, was perceived so negatively.” As he began to see the positive impact of the plant on his own body and quality of life, his focus turned to his grandmother, Viola, who suffered from severe glaucoma, so bad that she could barely see. “I remember the day like it was yesterday and I remember seeing my grandmother in so much pain,” says Al. “I also remember how absolutely opposed she was to trying marijuana. People of her generation didn’t smoke weed. It was just not a thought. It wasn’t an option. It wasn’t a remedy. It was a gateway drug. But once she tried it, and her pain subsided in her eyes, and she was able to read her bible for the first time in who knows how long, she cried and I knew the power of cannabis was undeniable and that generational barrier was broken forever.” ENTERING THE INDUSTRY As many know, state-legal cannabis industries are quickly expanding as more states move to legalize, and Viola has set up operations in six of these states, primarily in the western half of the country. But decades-old drug laws and prior drug convictions have limited the accessibility to this burgeoning industry for many others, particularly for people of color who have been disproportionately affected
by the enforcement of these laws. Al recognizes the challenges that being Black presented, and now he is working to make the market more accessible and more diverse. “Entering the legal cannabis industry as a Black man was difficult then, even more difficult than it is today,” remarks Al of his efforts to start Viola in a predominantly white industry. “As a public figure, that certainly gave me an advantage when establishing Viola, but I was never blind to the fact that others would not be so lucky. The barriers in the legal cannabis industry were so impossible to break down—that we immediately knew what the mission of Viola needed to be. To level the playing field and create a fully black led legal cannabis company—one that champions people of color and helps increase minority entrepreneurship in this industry.” VIOLA’S SUPPORT OF UNDERSERVED MINORITY COMMUNITIES Harrington’s words are echoed by his brands’ efforts to educate minority communities, establish and support expungement programs, and help those previously incarcerated to get back on their feet and contribute to society. And Al acknowledges that their successes in these efforts are largely due to Black leadership, starting with the highest executive levels and continuing throughout the staff and partners. “At Viola, we pride ourselves on being a Black-led company at the executive level and beyond. We want people of color to feel like when they walk through our doors, they’re being brought into something larger than your average cannabis company and that their contribution matters to a larger cause. While we are positively impacting minority communities who have struggled with the war on drugs, we also work to ensure
that our staff and strategic partners also reflect our mission of positively affecting people of color. It is my goal to make 100 Black millionaires via my cannabis businesses.” Black Lives Matter, Blackout Tuesday, and Helping People of Color Al and the entire team at Viola have committed to helping to lift up these communities, amplify their voices, and provide the cannabis industry with resources to help people of color, regardless of where they may be from. And efforts like Blackout Tuesday have sought to call attention to the voices so often silenced. “Blackout Tuesday was an important stepping stone in the larger BLM movement that is happening right now,” observes Al. “We participated at Viola by being pres-
ent in the moment on June 2nd. Our company, together with many people around the world, took a step back to reflect. Many of our biggest supporters, friends and partners are notable Black figures within the music industry —the original organizers of this movement, so we of course showed our support that day as we are all in this together. Viola is leading the way in the BLM movement as we are able to walk the walk. We are a Black-owned and led business supporting minority communities across the board.” No matter what your status is in life, whether you’re a professional athlete turned public figure and cannabis founder, or simply a cannabis consumer that cares about the issues facing people of color, we can all do our part to stand up and speak up when we see racism and discrimination in our own lives. “My advice is to take action/speak up when you see discrimination happening, educate yourself, listen, stay informed on current issues and support Black causes/ businesses,” recommends Al. “We need to repair deep wounds that have been hurting Black people in this country for hundreds of years and not just put band-aids over them. We need to heal and come out stronger for our kids and next generations to come.” People like Al Harrington are making a difference in their communities and the cannabis industry at large by showcasing the power of Black-led businesses and how we can collectively work towards equality by dedicating our resources to helping those that are often overlooked and underrepresented in the legal cannabis industry.
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