Pass the Mic

Written by Illinois State Policy Intern Amy Hildebrand I’ll start with two facts of cannabis legalization that should, by now, be well known, but nonetheless are important in anchoring the discussion. The thing that alarms me the most is that while the first fact speaks to our past mistakes, the second fact implies that we haven’t learned from them. If we want to put the bigotry and xenophobia that are inherent in the legacy of the war on drugs we must contend with the ways we talk about reparations, racism, and reckoning. At a meeting this recently with Stevie Valles, director of Chicago Votes, a non-partisan, non-profit dedicated to helping young people navigate complex ballots and vote confidently on the issues they care about. Stevie spoke of the importance not in representing communities of color in conversations about drug policy reform but doing one better by simply passing the microphone to them and always making sure they have a seat at the table where the discussion is taking place. It’s hard to say this is happening when only 1% of dispensaries in the US are owned by an African American. That is why I am writing this blog post. In hopes it reminds those of you familiar and enlightens those of you potentially in the dark. We can do better and we have to do better, before it’s too late for this fledgling industry to say it started off on the right foot. We can look no further than to our own network as shining examples of watchdogs of racial justice in the cannabis industry. Like Rachelle Yeung and Kayvan Khalatbari, keeping tabs through the Minority Cannabis Business Association. And Shaleen Title, who through her work as Commissioner of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission has insured that people with prior convictions and those from poor and minority communities can stake their claim in the new industry. Reparations – a word that scares scores of white Americans – are being written into law under the guise of “cannabis equity” as we have seen in Massachusetts and California. SSDP is also leading the charge for equality with the DARE (Diversity, Awareness, Reflection, Education) Committee. DARE seeks to advance strengthen diversity in all forms in the SSDP network and beyond as our members do work in the larger spheres of political advocacy and social justice. If these issues are near and dear to your heart – contact Elise Szabo at to get in the loop on the monthly conference call, which takes place on the last Tuesday of every month. What else can you do? Support community based organizations lead by minorities and women. Chances are, the people involved in a situation of discrimination, poverty, or other cause for social justice crusades understand it better than anyone on the outside. Let them to lead the charge. Abolish passivity, be an active ally. Keep the historic lineage of racist drug policy and policing in the conversation. Do not let it be all about profits and tax revenues. Drug policy reformers in this moment have a chance to steer the course of a new industry and we can make it ethical and equitable. Join SSDP’s DARE (Diversity, Awareness, Reflection, Education) Committee to keep these issues at the forefront of your activism. Contact Elise at Remember Reconstruction. The Civil War ended over 150 years ago, yet our country is still bleeding from the wounds it caused. The Union may have “won” the war, and the textbooks might tell us that the worst was over for black Americans, but with a little more digging one can easily see the horrific truths of institutionalized, traumatic, systemic racism in our country. Educate yourself about how we got to where we are. Read Remembering Reconstruction. And, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at if you want to talk more about how history shaped the drug war. Push more compassion and love into the world. Believe that humans can treat each other better than we have in the past and be that change.