Cannabis in Chicago: Social Awareness & Change

"Great - Legalization! Now how do we make it all work?"

Now that the presidential election is officially over, with the electoral college providing the final vote, it’s a great time to begin re-evaluating our relationship with cannabis reform and social equity within the industry.

How chi high tours is generating social awareness and change in chicagos cannabis industry

This year, four more states just passed for medical and recreational cannabis use. Some states, like South Dakota, were states that hadn’t even dreamed of legalizing cannabis in years past. In fact, many long-term residents of South Dakota were aggressively against the measure and used to be one of the states with the harshest penalties surrounding cannabis. Getting caught with cannabis was a steep fine or jail time.


That said, it was quite a shock that the state passed for both medical cannabis and recreational cannabis in the same year. It was not without opposition, though. South Dakota’s governor Kristi Noem has openly opposed the decision, stating that South Dakota voters made “the wrong choice” on cannabis legalization. “I was personally opposed to these measures and firmly believe they’re the wrong choice for South Dakota’s communities,” Gov. Kristi Noem told The Argus Leader. “We need to be finding ways to strengthen our families, and I think we’re taking a step backward in that effort.”


Interestingly enough, a counterculture movement has been spreading throughout the country since the first states began passing measures to legalize cannabis. Many people claim that cannabis use actually brings families closer together. Cannabis is on par with alcohol at this point in terms of social use and is looked upon favorably by most voters as another cash crop and a way to stimulate the economy.


With those factors in mind, re-evaluating our relationship with cannabis and with each other has never been more important. Cannabis has been a godsend for many people with chronic medical conditions and also a potent relief from stress in recreational users, but aside from that, states with legal cannabis now have the opportunity to leverage profits from this highly regulated crop. The cannabis industry and ancillary businesses make up a multi-million dollar industry in most states, giving communities the opportunity to tax the product and pour the money back into schools, roads, and hospitals.


Many other states are leveraging the money to boost public awareness of drugs and make addiction treatment more accessible to more people. 2 in every 3 Americans believe that cannabis should be legalized on a federal level to allow for more regulated and stabilized market conditions.


From an economic standpoint, cannabis legalization is a smart move on a lot of different fronts.


  • The industry is growing fast and is projected to be worth over $76 Billion by 2027.

  • The first year of medical marijuana sales in Maryland was worth $100 million

  • The median salary for cannabis workers is 10.7% higher than the median salary in the US.

  • Demand for cannabis industry jobs was up 76% from December 2017 to December 2018

  • The cannabis industry added more than 64,000 jobs last year — a 44% increase — and is expected to create another 20,000 jobs this year in California and Florida alone.

However, there is still an elephant in the room regarding cannabis legalization, and that’s the social aspect of it. Lots and lots of people are getting involved and making millions of dollars off of the industry while over 40,000 people are still incarcerated for minor cannabis-related charges.


The cannabis industry overall is booming. One state after another is legalizing it.


  • 15% of Americans label themselves as daily or current users.

  • 25% of Americans used cannabis this month

  • 66% of Americans support the federal legalization of cannabis. 53% of Republicans and 71% of Democrats are in favor.

But one major issue is the disproportionate percentage of people in jail and people making millions on cannabis, and that has a lot to do with race. Plain and simply, black entrepreneurs have a hell of a lot more trouble breaking into the cannabis industry. Despite the economic developments and the court cases getting people out of jail for minor cannabis offenses, many African Americans are experiencing systematic economic racism excluding them from cannabis businesses in the same ways they’ve been excluded from other opportunities in the past.


Less than 1/5th of people involved in the cannabis industry as business owners or stake-holders are people of color. Black people only make up 4% of cannabis businesses, while black people are disproportionately incarcerated for cannabis when compared to white people and even other POC.


A 2020 analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union, concluded, “Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.” Authors reported, “In every single state, Black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some states, Black people were up to six, eight, or almost ten times more likely to be arrested. In 31 states, racial disparities were actually larger in 2018 than they were in 2010.”


That’s no statistic from 2010. That’s a fact even today in 2020, with thousands of cannabis businesses in operation across the country. It’s more important now than it ever has been to address these social equality aspects as well as reform to lift the veil on the industry and allow more people to be involved.


Tracey Henry, a cannabis activist who has done work with social and cultural groups trying to make a heading in the industry including Women Grow and National Expungements Week, said “In the beginning, there was the feeling that the rush was to legalize and people felt that the social justice and equity elements would be added after the legislation had passed or that these organizations or companies would do the right thing. We’re seeing that is not the case. This is all tied to economic justice as well. There are a lot of Jim Crow Cannabis laws, that either by design or by circumstance, keep certain communities out of the industry. Depending on the state you might need a license to cultivate, a license to extract, a license to sell. These fees run into the thousands. Also, in some states, if you have a prior cannabis conviction or felony, you can’t be a part of the industry at all.”


So what to do about these disparaging factors surrounding the cannabis industry? The answer lies in examining the industry and working towards making it more accessible to more people. Some states are already stepping up, but it’s important to take really examine the social injustices in order to find a solution.


Some states, like New Jersey and Massachusetts, are working towards making the cannabis industry more accessible to people of color. New Jersey proposed a bill that would mandate a full 25% of licenses to be set aside for people of color while New York said they won’t vote for any legalization that won’t redirect the profits to communities of color who took the brunt of the negative effects from the war on drugs, which many believe has destroyed black America. Massachusetts has added a host of social equity programs to their legalization efforts.


Federal legalization is the best chance to get a uniform legal code ensuring social equity in the market, but some communities, like Oakland California are implementing their own rules and regulations to address the issue. Evanston here in Chicago voted in December to tax cannabis sales and use the proceeds to fund race-based reparations for black residents who have been pushed out of many industries through systematic issues.


“Our community was damaged due to the war on drugs and marijuana convictions. This is a chance to correct that,” Robin Rue Simmons, a black alderman who represents the city’s historically black 5th Ward, told The Washington Post.

We’re getting involved here, too. As one of a handful of African-American-owned ancillary cannabis businesses in Chicago, Chi High Tours is dedicated to education, reform, and social justice in the cannabis industry post-election and post-legalization. Throughout all of our tours, we provide thought leadership on the history & status of social justice in the cannabis industry Nationwide. Our founder, James Gordon, is dedicated to this important social aspect of the industry. His To Be Blunt podcast speaks with cannabis advocates, mental health professionals, industry specialists, and many others to bring more awareness to the experiences of black and brown America during such a revolutionary time in history.


With social awareness and reform, cannabis can be accessible to everyone. Now that we’re through the election, it’s time to really think about how we want to move forward. Releasing and expunging cannabis-related offenses, talking to local decision-makers, and getting involved are all great ways to start.

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