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Social justice

Published on January 28, 2021 · Last updated June 1, 2022

Exploring social justice in cannabis

Graphic of justice scales, hands, and a dove

Making a commitment to educating yourself about cannabis social justice is just the beginning of a journey that will change your life as a cannabis consumer or businessperson. Learn more about social justice and you can help us build a stronger cannabis community. 

What is social justice in cannabis?

In order to build a socially just cannabis industry, we must make sure that we are upholding fairness in our systems, communications, and organizations. But what is social justice, and what does it mean within the cannabis industry?

Before we get into what social justice in cannabis is, first let’s break it apart.

Social is an adjective meaning “relating to a society.” And justice means embodying, “the moral principle of what is equitable or reasonable.” String those together, and we could say that social justice is “the adjustment or allocation of a society’s resources based on what is equitable or reasonable.”

In order to manifest the idea of fairness in a society, it has to be assessed in four different ways: human rights, access, participation, and equity.

Assessing social justice

Human rights: rights inherent to all humans

Access: the liberty or ability to enter, obtain, or approach (services and resources)

Participation: to have a part or share in something (decision-making)

Equity: proportional representation to achieve fairness overall.

Cannabis and human rights

Graphic representing liberation with a lock and a fist

According to the United Nations, human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.

Promoting human rights in cannabis means a lot of things, but to name a few:

  • centering the physical and mental well-being of cannabis users
  • maintaining safe cannabis consumption and workplaces
  • and acknowledging cannabis as a medicine used by millions.

Advocating for human rights in the cannabis space also includes freeing cannabis prisoners, protecting LGBTQIA+ cannabis consumers and businesses, and preventing cannabis arrests from feeding the incredibly profitable American prison pipeline.

Cannabis and access

Image symbolizing access to weed

There is an American tradition of creating obstacles for certain people to access cannabis, whether that be due to their socioeconomic, racial, sexual, gender, or immigrant status.

Cannabis has many health benefits, and we must ask ourselves why there are so many barriers and rules around the possession of adult-use cannabis. 

Not everyone has access to cannabis, and there are several examples of how and why.

Access is often a question of ability and means. Promoting or facilitating access requires an understanding of power structures and obstacles, so that power can be evenly redistributed, and the obstacles can be removed. This opens up services and resources for more people.

One example of this is the legality of cannabis consumption in the US. The federal government deems cannabis illegal, therefore preventing Americans from accessing safe, adult-use cannabis on a national level.

A second scenario where cannabis access could be debated would be a state like Texas, where there are stringent rules about who can use cannabis as a medical or recreational medicine. 

Whether people have the ability to grow their own cannabis (rather than buy it) is also an example of an access limitation. 

Cannabis and participation

Though the cannabis industry has already been heavily impacted by transphobia, sexism, racism, we aim to reverse the impact of harm by increasing the breadth and depth of people who participate in the industry via employment and decision-making.

By empowering a more diverse set of decision-makers, we expand the realm of possibilities for cannabis. 

State-run cannabis licensing programs are a great example of a place where more participation can be promoted and decision-making can be improved.

State cannabis programs should work diligently to make sure that they are providing the same power and protections for small business owners and underserved populations as they do for multi-million dollar corporations. This means they should be listening to the problems that small businesses face, and employing decision-makers that keep all sizes of business in mind. 

Another area where participation becomes a concern is in the restoration of rights for people formerly convicted of a cannabis crime. People who have been exonerated from cannabis crimes should be able to participate in the industry as business-owners and vote for cannabis legislation where they live as fully recognized civic participants.

Cannabis and equity

Equity in cannabis is a constant goal. It requires us to find new ways to define progress and rectify past injustices. Cannabis equity is both restorative and demonstrative.

Equity does not look the same for everyone because everyone has not been historically or statistically treated the same. Equity helps provide balance, and would not be necessary if things were truly equal and diverse already.

Cannabis equity can come in the form of :

  • using anti-racist, anti-sexist, pro-trans methods for selecting business licensees
  • supporting minority-status business owners with seed money, tools, and resources
  • expunging cannabis convictions to help restore families and communities
  • protecting and creating diversity within the cannabis industry
  • and more.

Applying an equitable lens to cannabis

When trying to provide equity for a group or community, it’s important to examine the places where society has put them at a disadvantage.

After years of cis-gendered, heterosexual white men being in global positions of power, the characteristics of society mimic their wants and needs as the dominant culture. But by centering the needs of people who differ from cis-gendered, heterosexual white men, we see where there’s room for improvement. 

Women deserve cannabis justice. People of color deserve cannabis justice. People who identify as trans or queer deserve cannabis justice. The impoverished deserve cannabis justice.

The unique and valuable additions that these people make to our society make them deserving of the same opportunities as anyone else. 

So next time you consider social justice in cannabis, you know just where to begin. Identify the unique challenges a group is experiencing and you can help everyone get on a level playing field.

Resources for learning more about the need for social justice in cannabis:

Examining the Black-white wealth gap

Criminal Injustice: Cannabis & the rise of the carceral state

U.S. poverty rate by demographics and state

Redefining health: Exploring cannabis as a solution for total health equity

The Equity Organization

The Marijuana Policy Project: Criminal justice