June 14, 2018

Congresswoman Lee Introduces Resolution on Equality & Inclusion in Cannabis Industry

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Lee (CA-13) introduced the Realizing Equitable & Sustainable Participation in Emerging Cannabis Trades (RESPECT) Resolution, which encourages equity in the cannabis industry.

“There’s no question that there is growing momentum – both within Congress and nationwide – for cannabis legalization. However, as we move into this new era, we must learn from the failed War on Drugs and ensure that entrepreneurs of color are included in this expanding industry. Due to unequal criminalization rates and disparities in access to capital, people of color are being locked out of the new and thriving legal cannabis trade,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “We need to address the systemic exclusion and discrimination at play. Otherwise, we will be prolonging and encouraging the injustices of the past – where brown men spend their lives in prison for cannabis, while white communities get rich off the industry. I encourage my colleagues to support the RESPECT Resolution, the first bill in Congress focused on building equity in the cannabis industry.”

Currently, thirty states and the District of Columbia allow access to medical cannabis and nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for adult use. However, due to the economic and legal impact of racially-targeted cannabis prohibition, communities of color have largely been shut out of benefitting from legalization. It is estimated that less than 1 percent of cannabis businesses are owned by African Americans, due to application and licensing fees, bans on individuals with drug arrest and conviction histories, and severely limited access to loans and capitol for cannabis business.

“The systemic prejudice of the failed war on drugs is a stain on America’s history. As these outdated and discriminatory policies come to an end, we must address the damage done to communities of color and ensure equal access to the growing cannabis economy,” said Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-03). “I’m proud to join my friend and colleague, Congresswoman Lee, in this effort—which is an important step in the right direction.”

“This is groundbreaking cannabis legislation that addresses the effects of the war on drugs and how to create a fair and equitable industry while others ignore the opportunity and say it cannot be done,” said Shanita Penny, President of the Board of Directors of the Minority Cannabis Business Association. “We will continue our work to ensure that thoughtful resolutions to this issue are put forth and that cannabis legislation is holistic in solving past problems and preventing future travesties like the drug war and the exclusion of the communities most impacted by it as this industry continues to grow.”

“As more and more states dial back the war on marijuana consumers, it is important that those who were impacted by this oppressive criminalization are able to see previous harms remedied and be provided the opportunity to participate in the benefits that come along with legalization and regulation,” said Justin Strekal, NORML’s Political Director. “It is absolutely crucial that future legalization efforts include avenues to expunge prior criminal convictions for actions which are now 100% legal. We sincerely appreciate Congresswoman Lee’s vision to facilitate those expungements at no cost to the individual. Currently, a complicated bureaucracy and unnecessary fees often prevent drug war victims from obtaining expungements and being able to fully participate in many aspects of civil society.”

“It’s a gross misstep to not be on the front end of bridging the gap between communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition and access to the legal cannabis marketplace,” said Queen Adesuyi, policy associate of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Most industries consider equity and impact as an afterthought, but there is opportunity to take bold steps to atone for the devastation faced by individuals and communities who bore the brunt of prohibition in a way that’s equitable and responsive to decades of failed policies and racialized harm. We applaud Representative Barbara Lee and others for their continued fight to address the invisibilizing of communities of color and low-income communities within cannabis reform efforts and the booming marketplace.”

Congresswoman Lee’s RESPECT Resolution has thirteen original cosponsors and the support of nineteen national and local organizations.