Cannabis Workers Demand Industry Repair Relationship with Black and Brown Communities

8 minutes and 46 seconds is a long, long time… and the coward police had their hands in their pockets. As though Black life means nothing. As though George Floyd wasn’t blood of our blood, flesh of our flesh. Our beloved brother, our sibling. A child, a son. A father. A friend. An elder. Us. Me.

As if our song wouldn’t become a roar.

The genocidal reign of terror and murder against Black people in this country is an original blueprint of this project called the United States of America. The refusal of all levels of government and the police in our country to respect the right of Black Americans to live. To be considered Americans and that’s it. To breathe. To be free and left alone to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.

The crimes of enslavement, genocide, systematic rape, torture, murder, massacre, segregation, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration, and the total and unrelenting sociopolitical and economic disenfranchisement committed against Black people by all levels of government and white nationalists in our country are horrific. The permitted and incited reign of terror and murder against Black people continues unabated. And so, millions of people in our country and world, in all 50 states and over 18 countries, have risen up to say “Enough!”

We are done with this American nightmare both here in our country and abroad. Our government exports this project of death, theft, and exploitation all over the world, most specifically everywhere there are Black and Brown people, in the name of “progress,” “freedom,” and “democracy.” So many of our historic leaders tried to change these horrific and shameful practices. The triple evils that Martin Luther King Jr. and many others worked against: racism, economic exploitation, and militarism. And they were all murdered by our government, police, and military for it.

We as a nation and world are calling for a new social contract. One that takes into account the origins of nations such as ours, the original blueprints that formed the foundation of a house of horror that is not sustainable nor stable. As Martin Luther King Jr. said:

“I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about ‘Where do we go from here?’ that we must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy… it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together… A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will ‘thingify’ them and make them things. And therefore, they will exploit them and poor people generally economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and it will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together.”

All the people currently marching and coming together in the streets are demanding a new social contract that takes these unaddressed questions into full account. We are demanding a Truth Commission. The abolition of state-sponsored terrorism and murder. A radical restructuring of our nation and society. The blood, sweat, and tears of our peoples demands this. The earth itself cries for a new social contract and relationship with her. We either work together towards this new social contract, this radical restructuring of our relationships, or we will perish together in war and climate change that will most certainly mean the catastrophic end of human life on earth.

What has COVID-19 revealed most clearly to our nation and world? That Black, Brown, and poor lives only matter in as much as we are usable and disposable. The message of those with economic and political power has been “keep working”, “go back to work”, “open up the economy”. Black and Brown people, and the working poor have been deemed “essential” and exposed to COVID-19 in overwhelming numbers. Included are the workers in our informal economy, primarily Black people, who by state-sponsored racist, genocidal, and punitive policies are illicitly blocked from working and forced to make a living however they can. Together with the undocumented workers, they have no choice but to keep working in order to survive. The stimulus package and unemployment insurance does not apply or barely helps at all. Our nation’s supposed leaders cared about preventing the spread of COVID-19 until they realized it is us, the Black, Brown, and poor peoples who are dying and being infected at a disproportionate rate.

As the states relaxed social distancing measures and opened back up, it became clear yet again who the police works for and protects. Black and Brown people were brutalized and occupied by the police for enjoying time outside their homes or in the parks, while white and affluent communities were left alone or patrolled with smiling police officers who handed out masks and took selfies with community members at restaurants, parks, and beaches. Here lies two Americas: the American Dream (the reign of materialism and progress at the expense of the Black, Brown, and poor “other” and the earth) and the American Nightmare (the reign of terror, exploitation, murder and disenfranchisement against the Black, Brown, and poor “other”). The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Sean Reed, George Floyd, Sean Monterrosa, Rayshard Brooks, and so many more are a direct result of these two Americas.

What does this have to do with Cannabis? Historically respected as a medicine and important for industry along with Hemp for thousands of years, it became prohibited and criminalized in the U.S.A. in the early 1900’s. For over a century, this plant was misused by politicians and police to demonize, dehumanize, imprison, deport, and block Black and Brown from equity and gainful employment in our nation. Mass incarceration, poverty, the informal economy, community and police violence grew as a result of the racist drug wars.

This prohibition of its medicinal use was historically challenged in the homes, streets, and courts of our nation. As the prohibition of the cultivation and use of Cannabis in states began to end in the last 25 years, and make way for a resurgence in its medicinal use and recreational use, the people most affected by the racist drug wars have been also blocked out of becoming owners and operators in this new Cannabis industry. In sum, the continuing of the two Americas: the American Dream for the few and the American Nightmare for the Black, Brown, and poor “other.”

Cannabis companies, especially multi-state operators (MSO’s) such as Green Thumb Industries (GTI), have been working together with state officials throughout our nation to create and maintain limited markets. It is unethical and immoral that companies such as GTI have been allowed by states to profit from the Cannabis industry while shutting out the communities most affected.

As the nation and world continues to rise up and demand accountability, justice, and freedom, Cannabis companies such as GTI are being called to task as well. And rightfully so. For they are guilty and responsible. GTI has been complicit in the formation of Cannabis policies that create limited markets. They have teams of lobbyists and lawyers that push for the creation of policies which make it difficult for Black, Brown, and the working poor to enter the industry as owners or operators. These limited markets allow companies such as GTI to keep competitors out, maximize profits, and attract new investors to further their expansion and monopolies in other states. In the past several weeks, GTI has attempted to perform social equity and activism. And as GTI workers, we cannot keep silent about this.

As clearly shown here throughout our petition and updates, GTI has consistently revealed its priorities and its practice of saying one thing and doing another. As workers we had to commit a work stoppage in order to pressure GTI to close in-store service and have curbside-only service to protect our patients, each other, our loved ones, and our communities during COVID-19. Together with community support, we further pressured GTI to extend curbside-sales through the month of June. We organized a union election in order to solidify a contract with GTI that would transform our working conditions and greatly improve our standard of living. And GTI responded by illegally interfering with our right to a union election and to collectively organize to transform our toxic work environment and substandard compensation. Our demands continue to be ignored by GTI while they are moving forward with their plans business as usual. Our safety, health, and well being are not important to GTI. Only the appearance of such is, as maintaining a positive public image is only important to GTI’s bottom line. However this public image is a narrative of lies. As is GTI’s commitment to social equity and solidarity with Black lives.

We received an email last week from GTI’s CEO, Ben Kovler, in which he discusses the hiring of a new Corporate Social Responsibility director, GTI’s participation in Blackout Tuesday, its support of the Last Prisoner Project, its incubation of social equity license winners, and its participation in neighborhood cleanups of damaged Black-owned businesses. This is not a plan for social equity or justice however, it is performance.

GTI owes reparations to the Black community in every state it operates. For the looting and disenfranchisement of Black communities by its lobbying for Cannabis policies that create and maintain “limited supply, oligopolistic markets” which result in a foothold and stranglehold over the Cannabis markets and the subsequent profits made. Again, GTI employs this strategy to keep competition out, maximize profits, and attract investors for further expansion. This is GTI’s bottom line.

GTI only wants Black people to buy their products at exorbitant prices (while harassing them each time they shop) and once in a while work at their retail stores (under constant monitoring and suspicion), be an investor or member of its Board of Directors as a performative face of cultural diversity, or to use Black individuals for their talent, intellect, leadership, and experience in the Cannabis industry to further GTI’s bottom line (under constant reminder that everything can be taken away in an instant for whatever reason corporate makes up). That’s it. Workers, faces, and consumers who are taken advantage of and exploited. Not equal partners or competitors. As workers we see firsthand how GTI views and treats Black patients, clients, and workers. With fear. With mistrust. With disdain.

GTI owes the Black community reparations for these harms that the company continues to commit. And this means that GTI has to take actions that go against its own bottom line. Instead of “assisting” or “incubating” Black applicants, how about GTI just repair the harm it has done and work to transform Cannabis policies so that the industry is monumentally more accessible? Just as craft beer advocates lobbied to change Prohibition era laws in order to make it so that micro and nano breweries could enter the beer industry and even self-distribute their beer? In fact, GTI’s Market President in Illinois, Brendan Blume, has benefited from these changes as owner of Begyle Brewing in Chicago. GTI’s founder and CEO, Ben Kovler, also benefited greatly from the rewriting of Prohibition era laws: his family amassed their wealth from Jim Beam.

The creation of Cannabis regulation policies that operate more than anything as a front to keep Black, Brown, and the working class out of this industry is unjust. As workers in the industry we know how little these regulations are enforced, how easily the state modifies them to cater to current companies, and how companies such as GTI are barely penalized when they are non-compliant. State inspections are a joke and yet another example of performance.

We call on you GTI, along with Cresco, Verano, Pharmacannis, etc., to repair the harm you have done and lobby for the transformation of Cannabis policies so that Black and Brown people can enter this market as easily as the craft beer market.

  • Repair the harm you have done and offer resources and profits to Black communities who are demanding justice, transformation, equity, and a new social contract as the most affected by our nation’s historical reign of terror, murder, exploitation, mass incarceration, criminalization, sociopolitical and economic disenfranchisement, and genocide.
  • Repair the harm you have done and sign Community Benefits Agreements with the communities in which you operate in.
  • Repair the harm you have done by joining together with Black and Brown advocates who are demanding that there be full transparency, accountability, and community control of the just distribution of tax revenue from Cannabis sales.
  • Repair the harm you have done and lobby to decriminalize Cannabis entirely, which includes expunging Cannabis cases in which trafficking and carrying weapons also occurred.
  • Repair the harm you have done by signing contracts with your workers that improve their toxic work conditions, compensate them justly, and drastically improve their standard of living.
  • Repair the harm you have done and donate profits to organizations such as Brave Space Alliance, Assata’s Daughters, Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, Getting Grown Collective’s Farm Food Familias Project, Prison and Neighborhood Arts Fund, Ujimaa Medics, the #Let Us Breathe Collective, Chi City Foods LLC, Equity and Transformation (E.A.T.), and towards the rebuilding of Soul and Wellness, a center for Cannabis education and services in Chicago that was heavily damaged last week.

And beyond committing to repairing the harm that you have done, heed the words of James Baldwin and just get out of our way. Leave us alone. We don’t want to have this strange relationship of dependence with you for application assistance or incubation. We don’t want to have to deal with your need to have a good public image and therein be the recipients of strange acts of performative corporate social responsibility and social equity on your terms and at your whims. True social equity and responsibility comes from seeing Black and Brown people as your equals. Repairing the harm that you have done, and leaving us alone. Respecting us as equal partners, competitors, or workers with a negotiated contract. As full citizens and human beings. As wanting the same things you want out of life. Not relationships of dependency and codependency, but of equality. We demand full participation in this industry not as who you say we are or want us to be but as who we say we are and who we want to be.

We are human beings just like you. We want not the dream or the nightmare, but a new reality of right relationships among equal and free human beings. We want to breathe, feel safe, and enjoy the same rights as all human beings. To be free and left alone to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. To participate and enjoy freely and equally in the totality of life in our country and world. This has been a long time coming, over 500 years. A global movement of Black, Brown, and working class people are rising up currently to say that a new foundation and structure must be built, that addresses the old blueprints of our nation and world, tears them down, and builds a world together anew.

It is your choice GTI, if you will listen and be a part of this new social contract, and participate in the building of these new and just relationships as we are calling you to do. Will you answer the call? To repair the harm you have done? To leave us alone? To respect us as equal partners, competitors, or workers with a negotiated contract? To realize that you don’t have to fear Black people, Brown people, the poor, and women? To recognize that you can still make a living without choosing, as you are now, to make your living at the expense of our safety, life, liberty, happiness, and the earth’s?

Justice for George Floyd! Arrest and charge the murderers!

Justice for Breonna Taylor! Arrest and charge the murderers!

Justice for Ahmaud Arbery! Arrest and charge the murderers!

Justice for Rayshard Brooks! Arrest and charge the murderers!

Justice for Kenneth Ross Jr.! Arrest and charge the murderers!

Justice for Sean Reed! Arrest and charge the murderers!

Justice for Oluwatoyin Salau! Arrest and charge the murderers!

Justice for Tony McDade! Arrest and charge the murderers!

Justice for Dominique Fells! Arrest and charge the murderers!

Justice for Riah Milton! Arrest and charge the murderers!

Justice for Sean Monterrosa! Arrest and charge the murderers!

Justice for all Black and Brown people murdered at the hands of racist police, white nationalists, and misogynistic cowards! Arrest and charge all the murderers!

3C Naperville Workers in Unity for Safety for All

*3C Compassionate Care Center in Naperville is a GTI dispensary. 

*GTI brands include Rythm, Dogwalkers, The Feel Collection, Beboe, and Dr. Solomon’s.