If you’re in the cannabis industry and/or a part of the growing cannabis community, then there are probably a few basic things you know by now regarding cannabis reform (please edit to include the live published link to the highlighted phrase), but for those that don’t:
- In 2016, Colorado led 8 states in legalizing all cannabis for adult use. This inspired a wave of reform efforts that either fully or partially legalized and decriminalized cannabis in more than 30 states and 60 nations.
- The 2020 elections were a major victory for cannabis reform efforts in 5 states, indicating that the movement is still strong. Likewise, the MORE Act passed the House in 2019, bringing the United States one step closer to decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level.
- In 2018, the Farm Bill made it legal to cultivate hemp, which is defined as cannabis with a THC concentration below 0.3 percent.
- Thanks to the Farm Bill, it became legal to sell hemp-derived CBD, and enthusiasm for this cannabinoid sparked an explosion of business growth.
- The soaring popularity of hemp-derived CBD products has inspired business leaders to study and market other isolated cannabinoids.
These breakthroughs are turning points worth celebrating, but there is a flipside. Simply put: Cannabis isn’t legal at the federal level yet. Meanwhile, state policies can be confusing and are often implemented unevenly and with strong racial bias.
To better understand the nuances of this shadow-side of the cannabis reform movement, I contacted Sharon Ravert, the founder and former executive director of Georgia’s advocacy group Peachtree NORML. Sharon explained some major challenges facing the cannabis movement right now, and what we can do about it.
Cannabis reform isn’t an issue of only the left or the right; and, it’s easier than you think to join the fight for justice.
About Sharon Ravert
Around 15 years ago, Sharon was thrust into cannabis advocacy when SWAT Team members showed up to arrest her daughter over what High Times contributor Russ Belville calls “only enough weed to roll a decent West Coast joint.”
After fighting for her daughter and ultimately winning, Sharon took on the broader cause of cannabis reform. A small business owner from rural Georgia, she traveled to Washington, DC, to meet and learn from established activists.
Taking their knowledge and blessing back home, lobbying under the Gold Dome of Georgia’s Capitol became second nature, even though most politicians weren’t willing to openly discuss cannabis at that time. A shift came when Sharon connected with Ted Terry. After being elected mayor of Clarkston, Georgia, Terry swiftly decriminalized cannabis within his city’s limits.
When I joined Peachtree NORML and met Sharon in 2015, city-by-city, county-by-county, reform was the strategy we were implementing to flip the state. We learned that every location mattered, but our primary focus was the Atlanta metropolitan area.
In October 2017, the city of Atlanta officially voted to decriminalize cannabis, and Sharon used the momentum of that victory to move beyond what had become the familiar territory of advocacy and step directly into politics herself. Her goal: to become a state representative of Georgia’s 9th congressional district.
A lifelong republican, Sharon decided she would have a better chance of victory in 2020 by running as a democrat, and she was correct. Although Sharon lost the general election to her republican opponent, she did win the democratic primary and gained an important connection to the party at a critical time.
Participating in meetings and calls with now Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock prior to their historic wins in January 2021, she helped bring cannabis clearly into talks about criminal justice reform–a topic from which it had been conspicuously absent. She also inspired other individuals to run for office.
Politicians, Laws, and The War on Drugs
According to Sharon, running for office is a relatively simple process. For her, it involved under $500 and what she calls “just getting out there and doing it.” She continues to see it as an extremely important step regardless of what side of the political spectrum you’re on.
People on both the left and right want cannabis reform. Meanwhile, politicians on both sides hesitate to take action on it as a criminal justice issue. Running yourself disrupts that pattern. As Sharon says, “It’s not all about winning when you run for office, it’s about seeding change”.
Cannabis experts are being denied the right to work in cannabis and other fields. (And, the drug war is to blame.)You’re probably wondering: If most politicians are initially reluctant to discuss cannabis reform as a criminal justice issue, then how do they see it?
The answer is as a business one. Their focus is typically on finding a way to make it profitable, mostly for themselves.This kind of thinking is the reason why it’s possible for some people to profit from the current cannabis industry at the exact same time that others are still languishing in jail for doing the same work–sometimes with greater expertise.
In the event that these cannabis experts complete their sentences and attempt to legally enter the cannabis industry, most are barred. It’s a similar situation as the one with prison-based firefighters in California. When some of the state’s most skilled forest fire combattants are freed, they aren’t allowed to work professionally as firefighters anymore.
In many cases, they aren’t allowed to work in skilled professions at all due to their criminal background, which often involves cannabis. This practice is not just morally corrupt and abusive to formerly incarcerated people. It also leaves industries that would thrive on expert knowledge to pull from an unnecessarily limited talent pool.
In the world of cannabis, that means that even progressive-seeming places like Colorado are employing dispensary workers who struggle to answer basic questions about the highly specialized products they sell to responsible adult users and medical patients alike.
While there are additional issues to address, the problem of barring the drug war’s victims from entering the workforce is front and center to today’s cannabis movement. I asked Sharon for her thoughts on how to best address this injustice, and her answer boiled down to two simple steps:
“Expunge current cannabis prisoners. And, stop all the arrests”.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a cannabis enthusiast, and I love the new products I’m seeing. But, I also recognize that their existence isn’t a sign that my activism can stop. The same is true for you, for all of us.
So, the next time you join me in blending up a canna-infused smoothie to de-stress, I suggest you also join me in making a toast like this:
“Here’s to ending the drug war! Expunge current cannabis prisoners. And, stop all the arrests”.
For some more concrete action steps to take, check out NORML’s resources here.
I’m a professional copywriter and curriculum designer who also writes essays and poems about health equity, education, relationships and the dynamically changing landscape of drug culture–with a passion for cannabis! Some of my recent articles appear in Healthline, Mashable and Inside the Jar. I currently live in Midtown Atlanta with my two children and share monthly updates on all projects via The Grey Way. Throughout my adult life, I’ve used many forms of cannabis to assist with focus, pain, anxiety and cancer. My favorite all-time strain = Headband because it alleviates pain and puts life in perspective.
Written by: Kelli Lynn Grey
Edited by: Veronica Castillo
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