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Social Equity: Barriers to the Benefits of Cannabis

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

Cannabis has gone from the psychedelic choice of priests and shaman, to the cool of early jazz musicians, and what freed the minds of the hippies. Then, it became looked at as negative, dangerous, immoral and the public enemy of society with a war waged against it. But now cannabis stands as the healing flower it truly is and also a new industry with unlimited potential. There is so much to explore in terms of healing properties and business opportunities alike. For the often forgotten urban community, this is a game-changer, but even with all this possibility, there is still an Olympic track of hurdles in front of the very community that needs this the most.

Racism restricts access to cannabis via racial stereotypes. A negative stigma has always been attributed to Black communities with cannabis use. Dehumanizing images of the lazy, destitute, dangerous, violent, and irresponsible cannabis users were used against Black people while their White counterparts dealt with more benign labels of hippy, lazy, free-spirit, or the ubiquitous friendly “weedhead”. This shameful imagery affects how Black people are perceived when they use cannabis, but it also becomes a barrier when attaining a prescription from a doctor. When the Black patients are looked at as “drug abusers” they are less likely to receive a prescription for medical cannabis.

Another deterrent to access is the price. Not that the price of cannabis is prohibitively expensive, in many circumstances it’s the fact that there’s a price at all. Most pharmaceutical drugs are covered by insurance with low to no copay. Even if a cannabis regime is in someone’s best interest, for those with limited means, the only option left is the pharmaceutical drug. In this case, the cost is low, but the price they may pay is high. Low-income communities are at higher risk of substance abuse, including addiction to pharmaceutical drugs and death by overdose, so they need better access to the healthcare that is really intended to heal them.

A major issue is that, once we educate people from our community about the many health benefits of cannabis, what prevents them from moving forward is the same racial stigma and shame that was projected upon them that criminalized them. Many people from urban communities still view cannabis as taboo - as a negative. The “war on drugs” didn’t just incarcerate people, but it demonized cannabis use, so in these communities, a method of maintaining dignity, or affirming goodness to the larger condemning society, was to be anti-cannabis use. A form of “respectability politics” developed around cannabis use as a result. People were taught from childhood that in order to be perceived as good and decent, cannabis was off-limits. These politics continued through adulthood, and while those from communities without such virulent shame were more accepting of cannabis, and accepted by society, they transitioned into a billion-dollar industry with ease.

As cannanurses, we understand cannabis on a medical and medicinal level. We understand the spectrum of conditions cannabis heals and, as people who understand personally the urban community and all of their conditions and circumstances, we understand how cannabis can elevate both health and wellness and also economic stability. Economic instability and the inability to find gainful employment to provide for yourself and your family have deleterious effects on health and wellbeing. What is a community left with without adequate access to healthcare, education, employment, and a positive community spirit? They are left with sickness and chaos.

We see this first hand, which makes our passion so strong and urgency for equity such a priority. Being nurses, we understand the health benefits of cannabis, but being business people we understand how the cannabis industry can give underserved communities the mobility it deserves. Our goal is to bring social equity, in all aspects, to our community. Cannabis is turning mainstream with medicinal and recreational use, but cannabis has also become a big business and new industry and we want to ensure that our community has an equal opportunity to capitalize.

There is an immediate need to make the industry equitable to those affected by the damaging “war on drugs”. This “war on drugs” did irreparable damage to minority communities, creating a generation defined by mass incarceration and parentless children. According to a Pew Research Center study, in 2013, black men were six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men. The cannabis industry excludes the same felons that the “war on drugs” created and furthers the racial gap.

The racial disparities that are evident from arrest for marijuana possession became the racial disparities that plague the cannabis industry in terms of ownership. In a twisted irony, convictions for cannabis use may bar you from working in the industry and owning a dispensary. It is a crime that the same cannabis that led to their arrest is now a billion-dollar business that they are excluded from.

We want to raise awareness of the industry as a whole as a new option for business. This business isn’t just cannabis, the flower. There is marketing, agriculture, shipping, customer service, business management, multimedia, and more, and once our community understands this new world as a viable business option, more economic opportunities will open to our community as well.

Hopefully, with the normalization of recreational and medicinal cannabis use, we can begin to break down these barriers and lift the limiting stigma. We want the Black community to turn to cannabis as a viable option to heal the PTSD they experience and improve their overall well-being. With a consultation, we can help the Black community explore treatment with cannabis as the medicine it is and more than what they’ve experienced.

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