Will the legalization of marijuana hold our local elected leaders accountable to give resources back to the at-risk communities from its revenue sales, or will it line the pockets of the wealthy? This is the question posed in my past article, “Legalizing Marijuana: Who Would Have Thought?”. Present day, this has become the least of society’s problems given the irresponsible role that has taken place involving the distribution of licenses to sell.
Although community leaders are making every effort to get licenses first to those unfairly targeted and incarcerated for prior minor marijuana possessions, unfortunately, some have taken advantage and opened up illegal shops. The impact of this has been substantially felt in most urban areas with a proliferation of smoke shops on each block, and in some areas multiple shops on a block. The question is, how did we get here and why once again are communities of color being largely disadvantaged?
What started out as a way to correct a miscarriage of justice, has now turned into something that negatively impacted the same communities that were supposed to receive retribution. Instead, we are seeing the beginnings of increased crime and an increase in youth using marijuana. We have still yet to see the full impact this will have on many communities that are already struggling to recover from the economic turmoil the pandemic caused.
Some still argue that marijuana can also be a gateway drug while others stress that illegal businesses that do not have licenses to sell are purposely targeting minors. This makes for a perfect storm of no criminal consequences for those with illicit intentions. This goes back to the initial problem raised involving regulating the sales and licensing so that it benefits those that were initially impacted by aggressive criminal prosecution. The very same communities are now subjected to crime and targeted sales to minors. How did we get here?
We arrived here due to excessive greed and mismanagement of this new industry. Those with money not only took advantage by renting space, they seized the opportunity to make a profit. Communities of color and marginalized communities are being flooded disproportionately with illegal smoke shops opening up on every block. Many of these shops advertise and have paraphernalia deliberately targeting minors. The question becomes, how swiftly will leaders act to shut down these illegal shops, and why was this not factored in before it was rolled out?
How can it be that those impacted with wrongful incarcerations and families that were separated due to this were not first in line for reparations? How did something that was supposedly so carefully planned out become an issue that is now out of control? Profit over responsibility once again has plagued vulnerable communities and quality of life has been ignored. The egregiousness of this has a long lasting impact particularly on youth. It has the possibility of impacting surrounding businesses, schools, and homeowners. Thereby, ultimately influencing a community's ability to achieve healthy outcomes.
How community leaders respond and the swiftness of their response will determine the trajectory of this fiasco. The painstakingly slow roll out to provide licenses to those businesses that are correctly applying will dictate the future. In the interim, each illegal shop that remains open will continue to sell unregulated products which equates to illegal substances being widely available to the public including minors.
The issue remains, with marijuana laws changing, the enforcement is problematic and impedes law enforcement or courts to provide any worthwhile penalties. Will this become like the e-cigs epidemic that is still prevalent among children? How many edible overdoses do we need in schools that largely go unreported due to the negative publicity?
The response has started to gain traction in efforts most likely to change the upward trend of crime before the warmer months come. Most importantly, there is hope that those wrongfully convicted may now have the opportunity to take part in a legal substantial wealth building opportunity. While some may look at this as a reward for bad behavior, others see it as simply righting a wrong that was long overdue. Additionally, it provides the opportunity for people to become business owners, pay taxes, and stay on the right side of the law.
A sufficient response must objectively look at both sides of the issue. The response must take accountability for all aspects of the legalization process. This includes making sure that while correcting injustice for one group it is not creating additional injustices by severely impacting social determinants of health for others in their communities. Drug dealers masquerading as legitimate smoke shop owners must be held accountable. Community leaders must be held accountable to address the concerns of their constituents and engage in meaningful and long lasting action to ensure our youth and other members of the community are protected.
Your voice matters and can make a difference. Whether you are someone who has been wrongfully convicted for marijuana possession that wants to learn more about obtaining a license to sell, or someone living in an area that has an influx of illegal shops opening, you can contact your local community representative for assistance. As Nelson Mandela once said, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can choose to change the world".