Today, JAY-Z — aka Shawn Carter — is giving a first look into the world of his upcoming cannabis line, MONOGRAM. When Carter announced his new role as Chief Brand Strategist of Caliva last year, it signaled a new chapter for the overwhelmingly white cannabis industry.
As state after state moved to legalize marijuana, an influx of companies emerged to fill the market. Some then asked, "Why were white men poised to get rich doing the very same thing that African-American boys and men had long been going to prison for?"
JAY-Z has been an outspoken detractor of the "war on drugs," which devastated Black and brown communities since it was devised by Nixon in 1971. He's also been vocal about the way marijuana legalization disproportionally benefits predominantly white states and companies, while people of color continue to do time for minor drug violations.
Jay's new endeavor aims to fight social justice issues related to weed legalization and "increase the economic participation of citizens returning from incarceration" through “advocacy, job training, and overall employee and workforce development."
“Together, we hope to shape the conversation surrounding cannabis, foster equality and fairness in the development of the industry, promote awareness for the many uses and benefits of cannabis, and empower consumers to feel free to use cannabis how, when, and where they want,” Caliva said in a statement. The hope is that people of color might profit from this emerging industry.
Unfortunately, even with the legalization of marijuana, marijuana-related arrests nationwide continue to increase every year, with more than 660,000 arrests in 2018 alone, over 90 percent of which were for possession alone. What’s worse, these arrests continue to disproportionately impact Black and brown communities, though Black and Latino people are no more likely to use or sell marijuana than their white counterparts. This disparity persists even in states like Colorado that have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
These statistics reveal deep-seated racial inequalities that are baked into the legal system. Meaningful change can't then come from billionaire entrepreneurs and the kind of trickle-down economics that figures like JAY-Z and Pharrell have advocated for, albeit with good intentions.
A profit-driven legal cannabis industry can't be expected to deliver racial and economic justice. Meaningful change will come with the relocation of funds away from the carceral system and the police force and with increased funding in grassroots organizations.
How you vote in the upcoming presidential election will inform the conditions that activists and organizers will work within and it will impact how effectively they'll be able to push for change. Find out why you should vote this month, even if you're not mad about any of the candidates.