Bootstrapping It: The Cannabis Dream of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King

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“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.” -Dr. King, Nobel Peace Prize address, 1964

“I have a dream…”

We all know who said this, and when he said this and why he said this. What most people do not know, however, is that racial integration was not Martin Luther King’s dream. Black children and white children, growing up in a racially integrated society was only the starting point to his dream, it wasn’t the actual dream.

Reverend King's dream, and the dream of so many others like him, has not been merely integration, but equality on every level and that is only possible when there is economic equality. For Reverend King, poverty was one of the greatest evils in this world. Without economic prosperity and all that it affords - affordable healthcare, affordable housing, affordable transportation, affordable nutrition, the dream always has, and always will, turn into a nightmare.

Today, we may have created a somewhat integrated society (though looking at prisons and impoverished neighborhoods you wouldn’t guess it) but we have definitely not created integration across the board, certainly not when it comes to economic equality. Nowhere is this more felt than the cannabis industry.

Cannabis is currently a white man’s industry, period. Actually, that’s not exactly true. Legalized cannabis is a white man’s industry with more than ninety percent of ownership being by white people, particularly men. The illicit cannabis market, however, is conversely owned by people of color - at least that is what the incarceration rates would convey. During the War on Drugs, it was communities of color, not white communities, which were targeted. As a consequence, today more than eighty percent of prison inmates are people of color, and the communities which most of them have come from have been decimated. The result? We have created the perfect perversion of Reverend King’s dream - people of color paying the price for a once illegal plant while seeing none of the financial upside now that it is legalized. “I have a nightmare,” not “I have a dream,” is what he would Reverend King would undoubtedly say to us about the current cannabis catastrophe.

This nightmare, however, can once again become a dream. The pathway forward is what is being called cannabis social equity.

Cannabis social equity is a newly emerging aspect of the cannabis industry where states or cities are awarding preferential cannabis licensing to individuals, and/or communities, who have been most negatively impacted by the war on drugs. Cannabis social equity programs are an attempt to restore equity to a deeply inequitable situation and why I, and ONE Cannabis, have become so passionately involved. It is also why we call our program SEED - Social Equity & Economic Development, a name we created (and are flattered that so many in the industry are running with it) directly because of Reverend King.

Social equity is a statement of the reality and the problem. What is missing, however, is the statement of the solution and the possibility for a better reality - that comes with economic development.

To paraphrase Reverend King, don’t tell a man to pull himself up by his bootstraps if he ain’t got no boots!
  • Social equity levels the foundation. Economic development is what is built on top of it.

  • Social equity sets a place at the table for those left out. Economic development is the bounty that is generated while sitting at that table.

To paraphrase Reverend King, don’t tell a man to pull himself up by his bootstraps if he ain’t got no boots!

  • Social equity is helping pull someone up by the bootstraps, and economic development - those are the boots!

The cannabis industry is uniquely positioned to play a significant role in restoring equity to a still inequitable society, particularly for people of color and communities of color, and especially as it relates to the misuse and abuse of this plant. This plant, like nothing else, has the potential to integrate us and our society in important and impactful ways. It has the possibility to become an economic engine, creating jobs, generating wealth and funding community betterment initiatives like no other industry in our lifetime. Cannabis and cannabis social equity have the power to integrate us and economically empower us as Reverend King charged us with so many years ago.

It is time heed this charge.

It is time to fulfill the dream of racial equality and economic prosperity for all.

It is time to empower each and everyone of us, regardless of the color of our skin or the zip code we call home, with a pathway to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.

It is time to ensure that each and everyone of us has a pair of loving, protective, beautiful and holy boots!

Thank you my Reverend and my Rabbi - Dr. King,

Your memory continues to be a blessing,

Your humble student,

Rabbi B