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  • Geena Hill

Green Money: The Complications Surrounding Cannabis Entrepreneurship and Canna-Convictions

© Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri

Since the cannabis reform, the US has become a playing field for new green-enterprise, but what happens to those serving weed charges?

Oh marijuana, yes, that green plant our mothers used to scowl at, our noses used to twinge at, and our teachers used to act as though one toke would ruin our lives forever. Forwarding to today's world, however, weed has become quite the budding industry. And, whilst many of us stay reminiscent over our first giggling times after school getting ‘high’ in the park, many entrepreneurs have capitalised over the newfound trendiness attached to the leafy green. Although, with many incarcerations still being served post the legalisation of cannabis in the United States, how should we view the gentrification of weed, and what is to be made of the fashionable dispensaries that continue to pop up?

From the 1st of January 2018, cannabis was legalised for recreational use in California. Since then, there are now an estimated 500-1000 weed dispensaries open within the state, generating an estimated $870m-$2b in revenue annually. The legalisation of weed throughout America, for purposes aside that of medical, has allowed a market to grow rapidly with countless investors and entrepreneurs keen to explore new opportunities surrounding the drug. In San Francisco, dispensaries such as The Apocatharium serve inherently as the Whole Foods of cannabis, providing and endless array of strains and products to serve the needs of their customers. Similarly, also in San Francisco, Moe Greens presents itself as a high end dispensary and bar. Providing a luxurious space for canna-enthusiasts to let their hair down and mellow out. Over in the star-studded streets of Los Angeles, the Cannabis Cafe serves THC infused meals and snacks, with promise to leave their visitors with full bellies and happy faces, emphasising the scope in which the cannabis industry has sprawled amongst every opportunity to capitalise. However, when we consider the still very present number of individuals serving cannabis charges in prison, should we question the presence of these glamourised weed enterprises?

Following the marijuana law reform, arrests and convictions continued to occur throughout America. As reported by Forbes, an average of one cannabis-related arrest occurs every 48 seconds. And, whilst arrests continue to occur for marijuana offences, one of the glaring issues surrounding the reform is the presence of prisoners who continue to serve time for what is seemingly minor charges. In 2008, Fate Vincent Winslow was arrested for a $20 marijuana deal by an undercover cop. Whilst playing neither the role of the buyer or the dealer within the $20 dollar exchange, Winslow was sentenced to life imprisonment in Louisiana State Penitentiary. In the state of Louisiana, the legal status of cannabis remains mixed as it is still illegal for recreational use, but legalised for medicinal use. It is only until as recently as July 2020, when a change in Louisiana law occurred, a chance for Winslow's freedom seemed achievable. On December 15th, 2020, a court judge re-sentenced him to 12 years of the time he had already served, meaning he was released the next day. However, only 5 months after his release, Fate Vincent Winslow was killed whilst sat in his car. Leaving 12 of his 53 short years spent behind bars for a minor offence. Winslow's case only represents one of the many prisoners still serving for minor marijuana offences at present. And, with the recreational use of cannabis now legal in fifteen US states, many groups are questioning the severity of sentences posed to prisoners following the reform. The questions surrounding current prisoners serving long sentences are further emphasised when considering the capitalisation of weed as a new consumer empire.

When we consider the new found enterprise that is "Green Money" it is interesting to explore racial disparities between the entrepreneurs pioneering this new venture, in comparison to the individuals serving time for previous exchanges. In 2020 it was reported that out of 200 cannabis approved businesses in LA, only 6 were black owned. The lack of representation in POC throughout the canna-businesses stands in stark opposition when overseeing the overrepresentation of POC serving marijuana related charges in prisons. In the city of Los Angeles, 2014, for marijuana only offences, 20% of the serving population were Caucasian. In comparison, Latino’s made up 42%, and African Americans made up 30%, even though African Americans made up only 8% of the overall Los Angeles population. Therefore, many calls to action are beginning to be made questioning the presence of white entrepreneurs in relation to the continual incarceration of POC when discussing cannabis related charges.

As we reflect on the complications surrounding Green Money and the cannabis history of the United States, it is important to consider action that is taking place. In the county of LA alone, plans are in place to automatically dismiss 50,000 marijuana related convictions. This is as a result of protestors continually campaigning for the reduction and clearance of charges in response to the reform of marijuana laws in the state. Movements such as these provide a positive insight into the future of America in a post-legalised marijuana world, an insight that will be interesting to watch play out.


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