20 years ago, the people of California spoke and overwhelmingly passed the Compassionate Use Act, which made us the first state to legalize medical cannabis. California, as usual, was the trendsetter and innovator, recognizing the medicinal qualities of the cannabis plant. This trend then spread to 29 states, as well as the District of Columbia – where California goes, others follow.
As the leader, other states are looking to us for guidance on how we navigate through the rule of this new administration. California now has a thriving cannabis industry, which provides relief to chronically ill patients, veterans, seniors and children, whose pain and suffering could not be alleviated by conventional medicine.
Case in point, my girlfriend Maria’s father, John, had been diagnosed with cancer; he was in chronic pain and had lost his appetite. After multiple visits to several doctors who failed to provide relief, it was recommended that he medicate with cannabis. I was initially a skeptic because of the stigma, which the “war on Drugs” had given to “marijuana” in communities of color – a joint or more could mean several years in prison. However, I witnessed the relief that cannabis provided to John, and I became a believer. Not only did it stop his pain and returned his appetite, but the cost was minimal compared to the astronomical pharmaceutical costs of most cancer patients.
My personal experience with John 6 years ago would change my perception of cannabis forever. I became an advocate for the adoption of regulations to govern how medicinal cannabis is used in California. In 2012, when I was first elected to the California State Assembly, I knew I had to join with other progressive colleagues to protect the will of the people and help define the evolution of the cannabis industry.
In 2016, the people of California spoke and approved the recreational use of cannabis. Whether we like it or not, cannabis is here to stay in the Golden State. In addition to providing an alternative to Western medicine, cannabis is positioned to become the next “gold rush.” I strongly believe that this burgeoning multi-billion dollar industry must be inclusive for all, especially people of color, who were disproportionately targeted during the “War on Ganga.”
With a projected yield of $7 billion dollars for this year, there is room for all ethnicities to participate. Opportunities must be created for people of color, so they can find some form of redemption. With a product once used for mass incarceration it can now be turned into millions of dollars for reinvestment back into our communities.
In some form, cannabis is legal in 29 states, yet less than 1% of the industry is run by people of color. Hence the reason that I want to protect cannabis in California and ensure that in this majority minority state, we produce more minority “gangapreneurs.” It’s time to shift the needle and create equal opportunity in this economic prosperity. The time is now and we cannot afford to miss out.