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How Latinos can benefit from the fast-growing cannabis economy

Although the War on Drugs helped establish long-held taboos around cannabis among Hispanic families, those views appear to be fading as more Latinos are recognizing the enormous economic potential of the cannabis industry.
Chuck Schumer is Senate majority leader and Antonio Valdez is chairman of the National Hispanic Cannabis Council
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A budtender pours marijuana from a jar at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center medical marijuana dispensary, which opened in 2006, on July 25, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Crédito: David McNew/Getty Images

The War on Drugs has too often inadvertently been a war on people, and overwhelmingly on people of color.

For far too long, Latinos have borne the brunt of this policy without fully reaping the benefits of a fast-growing cannabis industry. That is why it’s imperative for Congress to quickly act to establish a federal standard for cannabis legalization and regulation.

This will help put an end to the unfair treatment of Latinos and other communities of color by removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances. And critically, this will allow Latinos to participate in the cannabis economy.

Data shows that Latinos care about cannabis legalization both from a social justice and economic perspective. Although the War on Drugs helped establish long-held taboos around cannabis among Hispanic families, those views appear to be fading as more Latinos are recognizing the enormous economic potential of the cannabis industry in helping build the sort of generational wealth that has long evaded communities of color in this country.

The National Hispanic Cannabis Council knows this all too well. At the core of their mission is the goal to break down cultural barriers and educate people on the health and wellness power of cannabis. By doing this, we can better address the underrepresentation of Latinos in this industry and help provide new job opportunities.

Data shows that 4 out of 5 cannabis licenses across the nation are granted to non-minority owners, resulting in 5.7 percent of licensed cannabis businesses being Latino-owned. In a multi-billion-dollar industry, additional state and federal support is needed to ensure everyone can benefit from the job-creating economic engine that cannabis legalization would unleash. The NHCC is focused on providing tools and resources for Latinos who wish to enter the industry as entrepreneurs or employees.

Aside from its economic potential, cannabis legalization at the federal level is a matter of fairness and justice. While Latinos constitute 18.5 percent of the entire U.S. population, they represent 50 percent of all federal drug cases. For decades, young men and women, disproportionately young men and women of color, have been arrested and jailed for carrying even a small amount of marijuana — a charge that often came with exorbitant penalties and a serious criminal record from which they might never recover. Latinos with a cannabis-related criminal drug record could be rejected from a job or be denied an adjustment of their immigration status simply because of this minor deviation from current law. It is time for this to change.

That’s why the Senate is working on the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, legislation that would go a step beyond legalizing cannabis by expunging federal non-violent marijuana crimes and allowing individuals currently serving time in federal prison for non-violent marijuana crimes to petition a court for resentencing. It will also establish a fund to reinvest in the communities that were hurt by the War on Drugs and provide restorative justice to communities of color.

From a growing number of states legalizing marijuana for both medical and adult use in recent years to legislative actions taken in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, we believe there’s momentum to finally end the federal prohibition on cannabis and address the over-criminalization of Blacks and Latinos in a comprehensive and meaningful way and provide them a pathway to economic success.

Legislative action means Latinos in this country would no longer live in fear of being arrested or barred from receiving essential services for using, growing or selling cannabis.

Much work remains before cannabis legalization at the federal level is a reality. But we owe Latino families the opportunity to join in the economic prosperity of this emerging sector. As leaders in Congress and in business, we remain committed to working together to push our country to rethink our approach to marijuana and take a much overdue, historic step to end decades of over-criminalization.