White Male Privilege & Legalization: The Black Man Loses Again

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I wish I had a dick. It doesn’t have to be a huge one or anything, but I think I’d like one, for the cred that comes with it. I mean it—that’s all I need to maximize my personal power and completely thrive in this world.

I was born into a Canadian, middle-class, white family, so automatically I am defaulted into a life of a certain level of privilege. But I’m a chick (sadly with no dick) so I will never quite experience the level of privilege my brother, father or partner have. I’m more privileged by association than in my own right.

You see, as a white woman, my white privilege is not lost on me, but my efforts for world domination are handicapped by my vagina (and compounded by the fact that I need to lose a couple pounds, my societal value is less than my fitter female counterpart). My personal relationships are all strong, my business is growing, I’m smart, I’m attractive, but because I just don’t have a dick, and I’m pretty sure I never will, I will always fall short.

We operate a head shop, seed bank and vapour lounge in Kingston, Ontario, a predominately Liberal-voting, white community in South-Eastern Canada (which is why I spell “vapour” like that). From time to time I experience sexism, both within the cannabis industry and from customers who think I don’t have the same level of expertise as my male partner, Lorenzo.

I get called “Sweetie” and “Honey” and “Dear” a lot by men and women (that’s right—women are guilty too!). Now, I’m sure people have called me by far worst names in my life, as the names themselves are not at all offensive, and can even be endearing. That is, until I notice the same person treating Lorenzo completely different– instead of an eye-roll he gets an attentive ear. Instead of cutesy pet names he gets firm handshakes and respect.

To some it seems Lorenzo’s presence somehow validates me, my opinion, my expertise, and my recommendations. But that’s my white privilege—playing second-fiddle to my white man-caretaker (be it my father, brother or partner), and the worst I have to deal with is a dash of sexism, cutesy names and sometimes not being taken seriously. I know it could be much worse.

I know I am never stopped in the street and asked for identification for walking while white. I know that I am not the default suspect in any crime (although I am certainly no angel), but especially drug crime (even though I am literally always in possession of cannabis, as a medical user, of course). Even though I’m “just a girl”, in spite of the mild sexism I face, I don’t ever feel limited or like I couldn’t succeed at anything I set out to do. While there is always a looming fear that the political tides and the tolerance for establishments like ours could change at any moment and our house of cards may fall, if my skin were a different colour, I sincerely think that the fear of reprisal would be more prominent (if not a deterrent for my business activity and activism generally—would this article have even been written?).

I can’t help wonder to what extent that our race has played as a role in our success. What would have happened to our business if we weren’t white? Would we still be thriving? Would we have been offered the same opportunities if we were a young Black, mixed race, or Asian couple? Possibly not. If we were black, maybe our then European descended landlord may not have rented to us as easily. Maybe when we opened up our lounge, the local authorities and politicians might have not seen our patient cannabis lounge as such, but instead as a drug den. Maybe the bonds that we have formed so easily with some of our suppliers would have been more difficult to forge if we weren’t all white people.

The War on Drugs is a very racist war indeed—where black people are disproportionately targeted for drug crime even though their white counterparts are actually more likely to be in possession of drugs (according to this 2011 survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). But it seems the road to legalization is just as bad.

Recently, Michelle Alexander (who is an associate professor of law at Ohio State University and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness) poignantly said: “Here are white men poised to run big marijuana businesses, dreaming of cashing in big—big money, big businesses selling weed—after 40 years of impoverished black kids getting prison time for selling weed, and their families and futures destroyed. Now, white men are planning to get rich doing precisely the same thing?” (Listen to her full conversation with Asha Bendele from the Drug Policy Alliance here). She’s absolutely right, I mean, I’m white, I always have been. The face of marijuana isn’t a black one; it’s a bright, shiny, white one.

“Diversity fosters innovation—we can all learn from each other and work together to build new, interesting and previously unimaginable products.”

Black people are strongly under-represented in the cannabis industry. I’ve been in the game a few years now, and while there are plenty of white Asians and brown Asians represented, there are almost no black people in our industry. I like to count myself as one of the many strong women in the cannabis community (you see, strong women is sorta the cannabis-community-thing!), but the cannabis industry has a lot to gain by becoming more racially diverse. I personally don’t know any black shop owners, or distributors that are black, and it’s a shame.

Diversity fosters innovation—we can all learn from each other and work together to build new, interesting and previously unimaginable products. Even the vile cod-faced Donald Sterling can see that by empowering a group that was previously excluded or oppressed, (be it women or minorities of any kind, but both in his case), not only can we expect increased productivity from that group, but we can also expect an overall strengthening of the economy (there is money now where it wasn’t before). Collectively we can only gain by diversifying.

Cannabis is going to be legalized soon (taking it from the black market and into the white market—the illegal, shady, market is the black one, and the legal, open market is white?), and minorities need to get on the boat now before they miss it. Young people who are selling drugs because they have no other job opportunities probably won’t be able to participate in the formal economy through the dispensaries because of their refugee “criminal” record.

But why is that? Unlicensed cannabis entrepreneurship should not be punished in a legal system—it should be revered and the knowledge and experience should be harvested so we can all grow our community together, puns intended.

We need to make room (and in the billion dollar cannabis industry, there is obviously plenty of room) for minorities to flourish in our industry. Some narrow-minded white people might claim this to be “reverse racism”—giving black people the jobs that white people could be doing. The fallacy here assumes that white people are automatically entitled to the job in the first place, and we are not. The jobs should go to the most qualified, experienced individuals, which in this case very well might be the people who have been jailed for already doing these jobs over the last 40 years.

So to all my fellow shop owners, dispensary owners, distributors and beyond, stop being “colorblind”, (pretending we are all equal to avoid the discussion of racism; denial or avoidance of obvious differences in the name of egalitarianism), embrace diversity, and reap the benefits that a fresh perspective has on things. Hire the refugees of the War on Drugs—they will probably be your hardest working, most grateful, most loyal asset with far more experience than whatever Wall Street cannabis opportunist that you might already have in mind.

The War on Drugs is a massive failure and it’s only a matter of time before we have access to a large, untapped resource (The American and Canadian current Prisoners of War and refugees) that we all would be fools not to take advantage of.

Photo Credit: M.e under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons