CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a chemical compound from the cannabis plant that is used to treat physical pain and other ailments. Looking at the history of cannabis since it was outlawed in the U.S., our hearts can understand why resources generated by CBD and related products could (and should) also be used towards curing the pain caused by cash bail and other ills of our criminal “justice” and economic systems.
“The Hemp Business Journal estimates that the hemp CBD market totaled $190 million last year in a category that didn’t exist five years ago.” – Washington Post
This essay is an invitation to the owners, employees, and customers of the plethora CBD stores which have opened in Asheville. This is also an invitation to anyone connected to any aspect of the cannabis industry, including recreational marijuana smokers. [That means you, my stoner readers.]
The context of this product can motivate us to address the suffering wrought by the criminal justice system, in part due to the biased enforcement of the use and sale of cannabis. There are people (mostly people of color) sitting in cells today because of a derivative of the same plant that gives us hemp CBD. We can examine and address economic inequities as well. As the CBD industry thrives, who is and is not benefiting?
With its former and current status as an illegal substance [which, for the record, I consider ridiculous, especially when alcohol is legal – unlike weed, you’ve never heard of a doctor prescribing beer], the story of cannabis is woven into the criminal justice system and mass incarceration.
The roots of mass incarceration in this country can be traced back 400 years, to 1619 when the first enslaved Africans arrived on the land that is now known as the United States. Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th does an excellent, heartbreaking job of outlining this history from the days of chattel slavery, through Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era to today, where over two million people are locked up U.S. prisons and jails, 70 percent of which are people of color (“Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex,” Angela Davis). The Equal Justice Initiative‘s Legacy Museum also tells this story in a visceral way.
“The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world….The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners.” – Equal Justice Initiative
The enormous scope of this horror of course generates great quantities of money.
“Private prisons operated by for-profit corporations multiplied from five in 1998 to a hundred in 2008, and profits have increased more than 500 percent in the last 20 years” (Source: Equal Justice Initiative). In 2015, it was estimated that federal prisoners helped produce $472 million in net revenue for private corporations (“Prison Labor Is Unseen and Utterly Exploitative,” Mother Jones).
Calling this system “modern day slavery” is not false.
Race, use, and enforcement
If you are white, like me, and have smoked or sold marijuana, the odds are that you did not have to deal with the criminal justice system, or if you did, you were able to get out of the situation with a minimum of, if any, jail time. I certainly know white people who have gotten away with selling crazy quantities of drugs and Black people who have had their lives ruined for carrying a small amount. In addition to being less likely to be targeted by law enforcement, as white people we are more likely to have access to generational wealth or other resources which protect us in a myriad of ways.
The ACLU’s 2013 report, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” showed that 52% of all drug arrests were for marijuana. It also documented that “a black person was almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person was, despite approximately equal rates of use.” FOUR TIMES. And not just equal, but the statistics show whites actually use more.
These numbers hit home, as the Asheville Police Department has documented racial disparities in terms of stops, searches, arrests, and other law enforcement practices, including violence. In terms of marijuana usage based on race in the Land of the Sky, I could certainly offer some anecdotal evidence that echoes the graph above.
As cannabis in its various forms is being legalized on a state by state basis, white people (mostly men) are seizing the moment to make money. In 2017, 73 percent of cannabis executives were men and 81 percent were white (Source: Marijuana Business Daily). Centuries of economic privilege give them a leg up in the game. My guess is the demographics of CBD and hemp industries in NC mirror these numbers.
These demographics are despite the fact that Black and Brown people have been intimately involved in the development of this industry in every aspect – agricultural, sales, etc. Investing in Black and brown cannabis entrepreneurs is certainly a way to rectify the inequitable pattern that is playing out. I’m inspired by projects like Hood Incubator in Oakland, California, which helps transition underground cannabis dealers into the legal market (“The Green Rush is Too White,” Pacific Standard).
If you notice resources and opportunities flow more easily to you than others because of your race or gender, you have the choice to redirect some of them. If you face fewer barriers, you can can use that advantage to eliminate barriers for others. We all benefit from the collective vitality that comes when nutrients flow through the entire ecosystem.
As CBD stores experience a boom (while being positioned to be able to capitalize on the eventual legalization of marijuana in NC), now is the time to create a paradigm-shifting culture of equity in the cannabis industry in Asheville (and elsewhere).
Black Mama’s Bail Out Action
Where might we start creating a culture of equity? Studying the injustice of mass incarceration, one may be called to join today’s abolitionists and visionary creators working for liberation through transformative action.
Admittedly, dismantling the prison industrial complex is an overwhelming proposition, as is the necessary work of building alternatives. For those ready to act, starting now through the month of May there is a concrete way you and your business or organization can play a role in liberation. In honor of Mother’s Day, the National Bail Out, which locally is Southerners on New Ground’s (SONG’s) Black Mama’s “End Money Bail” Bail Out Action, is organizing and fundraising to bail out and support Black mamas, while advocating for the end of money bail. Click here or below for this year’s launch video.
SONG shares these points:
- Every year, millions of people are coerced into paying money bail after they’re arrested in order to remain free while their cases are processed. Even though these individuals are still innocent in the eyes of the law, they and their families or communities are forced to pay non-refundable ten percent deposits to for-profit bail bonds companies.
- Bail is another tool to capitalize on the pain of Black communities. Black people are often accused and put in cells based on discriminatory and racially biased policies and monitoring. Cash bail often keeps Black people in cells because of their inability to pay.
- When mothers languish in jail because of money bail our families and communities suffer. The costs are devastating. Women often lose their jobs, housing or even children only to be found innocent. Some women, like Sandra Bland, have lost their lives.
You can also let me know if you want flyers about the Bail Out delivered to your CBD store or other location, graphics to share on your social media, etc.
CBD can be a tool for healing and wellbeing – as can marijuana, for that matter. As we heal our bodies and selves, may we simultaneously heal community.
There’s some good stuff on this site’s events calendar, including EJI Director Bryan Stevenson’s upcoming talk at UNC Asheville on April 25.
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Note: Washington Post quote and CBD image above found on this page on the Kudzu Brands website which I found interesting and motivating for this post.