Pubdate: Wed, 22 Apr 2015
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2015 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


When I was at the breakfast for Tommy Chong a couple of weeks ago, I 
talked with another African- American at the event. Actually, he was 
the only brother at this gathering of activists and dispensary owners 
aside from me.

As we spoke, I noted that brothers are few and far between when it 
comes to marijuana activism. His comment was: "And you know why."

Indeed I do. Brothers are afraid to stick their necks out on this 
issue because when the powers that be decide to start chopping heads 
off they know which heads are going to roll first. Given the history 
of the war on drugs and the fact that African-Americans get arrested 
for marijuana at more than three times the rate of whites, it makes 
sense to be paranoid.

When I later asked if he wanted to be interviewed for this column he 
said: "I'm still flying under the radar right now."

On the down low. Creepin'. Slipping through the shadows.

It's a familiar place. That's how a lot of brothers have learned to 
operate in the marijuana culture. Or around anything else for that 
matter. When police pull you over for a traffic stop and end up 
dragging you out of your car, beating you mercilessly, and planting 
cocaine in your car, as Floyd Dent says Inkster police did to him 
recently, you might think twice about giving them extra reason to 
mess with you.

Let's just say that blacks have not been at the forefront of the 
marijuana revolution. There have been few prominent blacks in the 
marijuana movement nationally. Maj. Neill Franklin, a retired police 
officer and executive director of Law Enforcement Against 
Prohibition, is one. Franklin was on the team that convinced the 
national NAACP to oppose the war on drugs a few years ago. But 
Franklin is a rare one.

Beyond activism, we're also not participating in the "green rush" of 
business opportunities that have popped up. Instead of trying to 
fight dispensaries, as some community groups have been doing, they 
should be trying to foster some folks in the community to own some of 
these, in addition to grow supply stores or testing facilities or 
packaging plants. That would go a whole lot further in protecting the 
community than trying to keep them out.

"I know some guys that work in dispensaries but they're not the 
owners of facilities," says Joe White, a black Detroiter who sits on 
the board of the Michigan Chapter of NORML. White has lobbied at the 
state Capitol on marijuana issues, but now he's focusing on 
educational outreach in Detroit.

"People in the city need to sit down and talk about this," says 
White. "That includes church leaders. Rev. Alonzo Bell agrees that 
this is something that needs to be discussed in the African-American 
community regarding marijuana. Things just need to be talked about, 
and we need to clear the air on this discussion."

Statistics show that among all ethnicities the older you get the less 
support there is for loosening marijuana laws. When I attended a 
meeting of the Metropolitan Detroit Community Action Coalition (which 
seeks rules restricting dispensaries) a couple of months ago, I 
guessed that the average age of the attendees was about 70. It could 
have been a little lower but they were clearly alarmed about 
marijuana stores in the neighborhoods.

"The group that's most resistant to any of these marijuana issues is 
the African-American senior population," says White. "There were a 
couple of studies done on that. The African-American senior 
population is fighting against it when issues come up. Most of it is 
a lack of knowledge, fear, misguided information, and so forth. Fear 
sometimes drives us backward instead of forward."

It's hard to blame them when they have seen their city and their 
neighborhoods ravaged and believe drugs are to blame for why that 
happened. But at this point marijuana won't be stopped. There are 
three different petition drives to legalize recreational use of 
marijuana in Michigan, and Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) intends to 
submit a legalization bill to the legislature this year. Polls show a 
majority of Michiganders support recreational legalization. 
Legalization could very well come to Michigan very soon, and when 
that happens the financial floodgates will be flung open.

In 2014 Colorado had medical and recreational marijuana sales of $700 
million. Michigan's population is close to twice that of Colorado so 
it's easy guess that sales would quickly go over the billion-dollar 
mark. Any industry that comes in and makes that big a mark on the 
economy is huge. And that doesn't include what could happen with 
industrial hemp, although it will take a while for the impact of that 
to be felt.

It's coming. There is so much money to be made that even if the 
petition drives are unsuccessful some major corporate entity will woo 
enough legislators to make it happen. Marketing executives have 
already profiled marijuana users and everything else they like: 
clothes, shoes, beer, dining choices, sports activities, vacation 
spots. They're ready to go. If legalization somehow doesn't come to 
Michigan by next year, it could very well happen in any of several 
other states, including Ohio.

So African-Americans need to get over their fears - whether it's the 
fear getting arrested or the fear of the scourge of marijuana. There 
is a coming new industry and unless some folks start investing more 
than the cost of a bag at the local dispensary, we will again be left behind.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom