November 20, 2016 | By Claire Kaufmann | Rebrandingcannabis.com
This year’s MJ BizCon was most certainly the industry’s biggest event ever. From Maine to Florida, Israel to Puerto Rico, more than 10,000 people buzzed about, optimism abounding. Notable was the dramatic interest from investors, who see a lot less risk now than even a couple years ago.
Thursday night, right in the middle of the conference, President-Elect Trump announced Jeff Sessions as his pick for Attorney General. Called an “Insult to Justice” by the New York Times, Sessions is a senior Republican from Alabama, and an early and staunch Trump loyalist. Sessions was once so despised by his peers that in 1986 his Republican colleagues deemed him unfit to serve as a federal judge, citing concerns about racist and lewd comments. Equally concerning to our industry is Session’s disdain for marijuana.
Upon hearing the Sessions news, a few people rightly expressed concern. But almost everyone who I spoke with said, ‘don’t worry.’ After all, what could he do? The people have spoken, states’ rights matter, we are good for business… the train for the cannabis industry has already left the station so… “we’ll be fine.”
To say “we’ll be fine” after Sessions’ nomination is to misunderstand the meaning of “we.” Do you mean “we” as an industry? Or “we” as a movement? “We” used to be both. To say “we’ll be fine” is to dangerously underestimate the magnitude of what Sessions’ appointment means for nonviolent drug offenders all around the country, people whose prospects for release or reprieve are now most certainly vanquished. To say “we’ll be fine” is to divorce cannabis from activism.
At that moment I realized two fundamental truths. One, it is true that we have shown our velocity as an industry. That we have the wind at our backs. We represent hope in a nation desperate for new jobs and new home-grown businesses. Two, is that I fear we have at the same time lost our way.
Four years ago when I started working in cannabis activism, if you were an entrepreneur, you were by definition an activist. You were taking a risk just showing up. This conference somehow felt very different. Yes, advocacy groups like Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Drug Policy Alliance were given prominent booths in the main corridor. But notable was how few people seemed to stop by.
Somehow, despite the best intentions of some activist-entrepreneurs, we are quickly becoming another industry of privilege. This year’s conference was as white and male and wealthy as ever. In the entire expo hall, full of hundreds of booths, there wasn’t as much as a candle lit for those still suffering as a result of federal prohibition.
Cannabis conferences need to take responsibility for the huge role they play in educating industry newcomers. Those that organize profitable events, especially those defining how the cannabis industry walks and talks, would do well to educate conference goers on the importance of activism.
Yes, it’s normal for any industry to worry about their own future under this incoming administration. But, for all the energy spent on 280E reform, we need equal energy invested in getting and keeping cannabis consumers out of jail and with their families.
For that reason we must be more vigilant than ever, and ensure we are putting our money where our mouth is. We need to resew the threads of social activism back into our industry’s very fabric.
Perhaps the silver lining in Sessions’ appointment is that it revives us and reawakens us to come together. To remind us that, in fact, social activism isn’t a nice add-on to the industry, deserving a well-placed booth, but rather it is an integral part of a civil-rights movement that is making an industry possible.
Happy Thanksgiving and Peace to All. Onward!
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