Cage-Free Cannabis | The Mission to Merge the Cannabis Industry with Social Justice Contributor: Jahan Sharif
Modern research data clearly shows the link between the War on Drugs and the destruction of communities of color around the country. From sentencing minimums to police tactics, Blacks and Latinos living in poor and underserved neighborhoods have borne the brunt of America’s effort to get drugs off the streets. Entrepreneur Adam Vine believes it is the responsibility of the cannabis industry to pay for the repairs caused by its failures, and he co-founded Cage-Free Cannabis to do just that.
What does your organization do? And how does it address the statistics of the War on Drugs?
AV: Cage-Free Cannabis is a mission-driven brand that sells accessories for cannabis consumers and donates all of our net profits to repairing the harms of the drug war. We give to organizations, and they do the work on the ground. In addition to selling accessories for cannabis consumers, the other way that we generate revenue is by partnering with existing companies in the cannabis space to co-brand products and develop and execute their social responsibility plans. It’s crucial that we bring other brands into our mission and help them participate in this work of repair.
Let’s talk about this idea of repair.
AV: We redirect money from the cannabis industry to help people who are coming back from incarceration and help young people develop. We help people heal from trauma, and then we also help people of color enter the cannabis industry and use it to build wealth.
The estimate is that, by 2020, the industry will be valued at 20-40 billion dollars and will employ more people than the manufacturing industry. And one thing we know from the formerly incarcerated is that finding them a job is crucial for their future success.
Why was L.A. the right place to locate your company?
AV: It begins and ends with the fact that L.A. is now the largest recreational marijuana market in the world. But at the same time, it has a long history of criminalizing the use of marijuana. The first marijuana-related arrest in the nation happened here in 1914. And it’s really been a tool to lock up people of color. So now that L.A. is the largest market in the world, I think that this is really the place where the industry can really repair the harms of that prohibition.
“The cannabis industry, because of its past– its history of criminalization and prohibition– bears a special responsibility to fund that work of repair. To help people come back from lockup. To help people grow and get educations and get on with their lives, and then also to help communities of color to really participate in the industry in a meaningful way.”
How did you come to be involved with this work?
AV: I moved to Washington, D.C. after working on President Obama’s first campaign for president in Nevada. One of the first jobs I landed in D.C. was to become a mentor in D.C. public high schools. I got to work with six groups of young people from six different schools, and it was the breadth of my experience with those young people that really did it for me. Seeing the metal detectors, seeing the police cars that are outside, seeing the challenges that those students had just getting to and from school, that had a real effect on me that I brought back with me when I moved back to L.A.
I really immersed myself in community-based organizations around the city that work on violence prevention, and youth intervention, and gang intervention, and reentry from incarceration– a lot of the same things now that we’re funding.
It came full circle…
AV: That was really when things really clicked for CFC, when I saw the work that I was documenting around L.A. and realized that it needed to be funded by the cannabis industry. The cannabis industry, because of its past– its history of criminalization and prohibition– bears a special responsibility to fund that work of repair. To help people come back from lockup. To help people grow and get educations and get on with their lives, and then also to help communities of color to really participate in the industry in a meaningful way.
What helped you see that connection?
AV: I think there are a few things. 1—There was a conversation that Michelle Alexander had with Asha Bandele, who works with the Drug Policy Alliance. She interviewed Michelle Alexander, and she cut straight to the chase. She said we’ve been locking up people of color for years and years because of their participation in this cannabis industry, and now a whole bunch of white people are about to make millions, if not billions, of dollars. So that conversation was formative for me. I sort of perceived that too, but it took a while to put that into words.
We’ve become so culturally divided as a country, but marijuana is becoming very mainstream. How is this an opportunity for us to establish connections between us and groups that we don’t necessarily know much about?
AV: Ideally, the cannabis industry offers that potential. To start telling these stories and to start bringing these groups closer together. Because it’s moving toward the mainstream, cannabis is shedding some of the stigma, but it’s also shedding some of the stereotypes– you know, the stoner hippie or the people who have no motivation. It’s becoming much more closely aligned with health and wellness and a sort of contemporary American lifestyle. So, as that’s happening, our role is to inject these stories into that narrative, so that wellness and that health goes to everyone. It doesn’t just go to white folks doing yoga on the beach.
None of this takes place in a vacuum. I’m reminded of one of my favorite teachers, a college professor who said, “there is no text without context.” Professor E. Patrick Johnson. That only increases in importance to me as I think about it over these years. And the cannabis industry is like that, too. It’s happening at a time that has growing income inequality, the racial wealth gap is as large as it’s ever been. And it’s into that context that this industry is opening up, and those are the things that we want to be aware of. Because we really want to position our narrative as one of opportunity. This opportunity of being able to grow economic empowerment, to be able to close that racial wealth gap, and to narrow that income inequality that we see in American society today. That’s the goal.
To learn more about Adam’s mission, visit the official site for Cage-Free Cannabis.
“The War on Drugs: From Prohibition to Gold Rush” featuring Jay Z and Molly Crabapple: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSozqaVcOU8
Contributor: Jahan Sharif