Why a Trump Presidency Means It's Time for the Pot Industry to Get Political

Thoughts on the imperative for weed to embrace its activist roots.

The future of the U.S. cannabis industry has always been uncertain. But is it possible that the cannabis industry has lost its corporate responsibility before it’s really gotten started?

On November 8, 2016, eight more states voted to legalize cannabis. California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada legalized adult use (a/k/a “recreational”) and North Dakota, Montana, Arkansas, and Florida legalized medical use. As a result:

• 28 states and DC have legalized medical marijuana
• 8 states plus DC have legalized adult use of marijuana, including the entire West Coast
• 56 percent of Americans now live in a state where some form of marijuana is legal

While 60 percent of Americans agree it is time to move beyond marijuana prohibition, the country is bitterly divided over who should lead the nation.

I disagree with those who advise that we shouldn’t mix business and politics.

Filming in Oakland and Boston on Election Night 2016 was surreal. Mary Janes had a film crew in each state to follow our Puffragettes™ leading the campaigns there. As the cannabis votes came in, we filmed the elation. Campaign organizers posed for media photos, gave interviews, and danced in celebration. But many attendees were realizing that the presidential election was falling off a cliff.

The “one-issue” cannabis voters (meaning if a candidate is pro-cannabis, they’re cool) continued to dance like it was 1999. The rest were shocked—either because they realized how fragile the cannabis industry is, or they saw decades of human-rights progress slipping away.

Our film shoot ended with a feeling of: “Yay, cannabis! WTF, America?”

I disagree with those who advise that we shouldn’t mix business and politics. Corporate responsibility is more important than ever. Consumers want to know where their companies stand on key issues. In fact, I find it irresponsible for the cannabis industry to remain largely silent, especially since the main lobbying points to legalize marijuana are based on human rights, compassionate healthcare, social justice, and sustainability.

I understand people are in shock, but the industry has largely focused on the uncertainty about an anti-marijuana Attorney General like Jeff Sessions instead of the other human rights abuses that a Trump and Pence administration portend.

As a filmmaker who came to the cannabis industry when I realized that to talk about cannabis is to talk about gender parity, social justice, and environmental sustainability, I’m disappointed. While some longtime advocates are speaking up, I am waiting for more businesses to take a stand.

Nothing says 'we disrespect women' like literally treating a woman like a piece of meat.

Now is a moment of truth. We wait to see how the Constitution will be challenged and how our political and industry leaders will respond to the challenges ahead.

The future I envision for cannabis values environmental stewardship.

California’s Prop 64 included provisions to regulate the amount of water cannabis growers can use. The drought-plagued state understands the importance of an eco-sustainable industry. What will the cannabis industry do if the President-elect tries to roll back national EPA protections? Will we tolerate government-sanctioned destruction?

The future I envision for cannabis supports compassionate healthcare for all people.

Access to medical marijuana came out of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996—which went into effect just after the peak in American HIV/AIDS deaths. What will the cannabis industry do if politicians try to demolish the Affordable Healthcare Act (a/k/a “Obamacare”), which brings healthcare to millions of vulnerable people? Will we turn our back on everyone who needs compassionate care?

The future I envision for cannabis celebrates the LGBTQ community, which is on the forefront of the movement.

While he was the governor of Indiana, VP-elect Mike Pence attempted to rebrand anti-gay bigotry as “religious liberty” and divert funding from HIV prevention to “conversion therapy.” What will the cannabis industry do if the Administration tries to deny our LGBTQ neighbors the right to marry, work, and even live? Will the industry forget its LGBTQ leaders and allies?

The future I envision for cannabis respects women as the professionals they are.

Images coming out of the 2016 Marijuana Business Conference and Expo include a scantily clad woman, lying on a platter, covered in charcuterie. Nothing says “we disrespect women” like literally treating a woman like a piece of meat. Contrast that crude display with the fact that the industry has a higher gender-parity rate than any other business sector: 36 percent nationally at last count. Oregon is at 44 percent. Will all genders turn away from demeaning behavior? If not, what other gender-based violence will be sanctioned? Name-calling? Groping? Rape? The President-elect wasn’t above such behavior. Are we?

Marijuana possession was the fourth leading cause of deportation under the Obama Administration. 

The future I envision for cannabis includes immigrants and people of color.

Marijuana possession was the fourth leading cause of deportation under the Obama Administration. More than half of the “drug busts” in the United States are for marijuana, and people of color are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Many state legalization efforts hoped to reduce racial profiling and the prison-industrial-complex inmate population by legalizing cannabis. How will cannabis leaders respond if the government tries to register, imprison, and deport legal immigrants or anyone who appears Muslim? What will the cannabis industry do if women’s hijabs are being ripped off their heads, police continue to wage a campaign of lethal violence against people of color, and the KKK is hosting victory marches in the streets?

If you’re paying attention, the list of environmental and human-rights abuses the new administration seems open to should be horrifying. It should also energize the “activist” part of you that brought the cannabis industry to where it is today, and encourage you to fight the next battle: For human decency in the United States.

The United States is fractured. The cannabis industry can step up and lead by example. With compassion, justice, inclusion, and respect. It’s time to take a stand.

This is the story I want to share with the world. It’s up to you to whether I can.

This editorial originally appeared on the Mary Janes Film web site.