Though the War on Cannabis—a subset of the notorious War on Drugs—has proven fruitless and wasteful, it still costs U.S. taxpayers about $3.6 billion, according to the ACLU. As cannabis legalization sweeps across the U.S. state-by-state, it’s easy to see the prosperity of Colorado’s growing $6 billion industry and forget that less than a generation ago, state laws made incredibly harsh sentences commonplace among marginalized communities. Decades of over-policing in communities of color have created a sense of mistrust during encounters with local law enforcement. For example, African-Americans are 3.73 times more likely to get arrested for cannabis, despite consuming it at roughly the same rate as whites.
However, as mainstream attitudes shift toward legalization, the disproportionate amount of racially-motivated arrests should decrease in the coming decade. According to a 2019 CBS poll, 65% of Americans now support legalization. Through advocacy, education, and common sense policy suggestions, these nonprofit organizations fight for the rights of every American negatively impacted by prohibition.
The Last Prisoner Project is a nonprofit organization working tirelessly to free Americans who’ve been incarcerated for victimless, cannabis-related crimes. This organization provides resources and support for victims of cannabis incarceration, from fighting for clemency and criminal record expungement to re-entry into the workforce. They are based out of Denver, Colorado and accept donations via their website.
While the bulk of cannabis nonprofit organizations focus primarily on criminal justice reform for adults, P4P raises awareness about the impact of prohibition on families with children. They’re advocating for those with chronic and/or terminal conditions who’d benefit from the plant’s medicinal properties. Their work “helps families with cannabis-related issues through education, direct action, and organizational support.”
The ASA is a large and well-established nonprofit with a long list of historical policy changes under their belt. Not only do they advocate for the rights of medical cannabis patients at the federal and state level, but they also built the world’s first International Cannabis and Cannabinoid Institute. They support medical professionals and patients by offering accredited education programs, as well.
The NCIA takes a business-centered approach to advocacy. Their aim is to help business owners navigate the relatively new landscape of the legal cannabis industry. As more jurisdictions do away with cannabis prohibition, licensed business owners in states with legalization in place still find themselves operating in a legal gray area, federally speaking. This can pose several significant challenges to start-ups. NCIA’s advocates want business owners to have a seat at the table when it comes to new policies that will affect their businesses.
Legalization is a great first step, but cannabis advocacy doesn’t end there. One of the greatest challenges for marginalized communities and those affected by the heavy hand of prohibition is accessibility, including limited-to-no insurance coverage for medical cannabis in states such as Arizona. Financial assistance for those in need of an MMJ card or who are unable to afford their medicine is available. They also guide new patients through the process of applying for their card.
Shifting the focus to international efforts—Fields of Green for All is a South African nonprofit that put out a publication titled: Cannabis, the People’s Plant - A Full Spectrum Manifesto for Policy Reform. In addition to the manifesto, they maintain an active blog and advocate for policy reforms that will benefit the majority of South Africans.
Georgia is one of the most restrictive states for cannabis in the U.S. More than one ounce can lead to a possible felony charge. Major cities such as Atlanta have decriminalized it, but residents of rural counties in the state still face an uphill battle. Georgia CARE Project provides information for activists, interested citizens, patients, and journalists.
As the new decade kicks off, America is closer to full legalization than ever before and other countries, such as South Africa, are taking notice. There’s still plenty of work to do, however. With the help of these organizations, cannabis prohibition may soon become a dark and hazy memory of our collective past.