For many consumers in US states where cannabis is legal, consumption of the plant sits squarely in the realm of luxury.

By Jenni Avins January 25, 2019

In Los Angeles, for example, there are dispensaries where store associates wielding iPads assist customers in finding just the flower, tincture, topical, or edible to strike their fancies or ease their ailments. High-end shoppers have access to beautifully labelled jars and pre-rolled joints of organically grown buds, Sativa extracts in rose gold-tone vaporizers, and sugar-dusted CBD-enhanced gum-drops in Hermès-worthy boxes.

Many young consumers have come to expect that the companies selling them luxury products, whether artisan-made accessories or fair-trade coffee, have ethical standards that account for the social costs of the good they’re selling. This is one area where the cannabis industry has a great deal of catching up to do—and it’s starting from a troubled place.

After all, the same plant that’s now behind a $9.7 billion legal business in the US has been weaponized as a tool of racial discrimination against Latino and African-Americans for decades—and arguably still is. The original architects of the US War on Drugs, a program of anti-drug enforcement starting in the 1960s, have admitted the policy  was specifically designed to undermine black communities and fragment the political left.

And it was highly effective in doing so. The federal initiative demonized drugs, including marijuana, and those who used them, and has given the US the world’s highest incarceration rate. Between 1980 and 1989, the arrest rate for drug possession and use nearly doubled. And although surveys show that whites use drugs as much or more than blacks in the US, black people were arrested for drug-related offenses at five times the rate of whites in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Not much has changed: In 2018, some 90% of those arrested for smoking cannabis in New York City were either black or Latino.

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