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Marijuana Reform Is BS Until Florida Gives Amnesty to African-Americans Convicted of Pot Crimes

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Now that Florida has legalized medical marijuana and the Legislature has begun working on rules, it’s time to consider the hypocrisy of it all.

If we're going to legalize, we ought to expunge the criminal record of every person ever convicted of a marijuana crime. For years, white people bought their weed from the brothers. Even the white guy who sold the stuff got it from an African-American. Yet a disproportionate number of black people have spent years in jail for trafficking and possession.

Maybe worse, as the state is licensing companies to grow and market pot legally, African-Americans are being shut out of the business. None of the seven operators granted the "integrated vertical licenses" to grow and sell is black, says Howard Gunn Jr., president of the Florida chapter of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association. “We just want to get started growing,” he says.

Marijuana Reform Is BS Until Florida Gives Amnesty to African-Americans Convicted of Pot Crimes
Illustration by Alex Izaguirre

Soon white guys will be opening stores in our neighborhoods. Who do you think will make money off that? Not the Jamaican farmers who have been providing weed for years. Gov. Rick Scott will eventually bankrupt a Third-World country.

The most obvious victims, though, are the mostly African-American felons who have lost their voting rights and freedom for selling or simply possessing a bit of weed. Not only will they never get a license to sell marijuana because of their jail time, but they also won't be able to get jobs at all.

Suffering because you once sold or possessed something that's now legal is just not right.

So listen up, Governor Scott. African-Americans deserve a piece of the medical marijuana business. Last year, the state said black farmers could get involved only after the state reached 250,000 patients, according to Gunn. But others will already have the inside track by then. "We are fighting," Gunn says.

Tallahassee needs to do something for African-Americans just as it has for Native Americans. It's only fair.

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