As marijuana laws in America continue to relax, the historical and current impact on Blacks is being looked at and the new BET documentary Smoke: Marijuana + Black America analyzes the phenomenon from several perspectives. One of them is from the perspective of those who choose to enter the burgeoning cannabis business.
In a Zoom chat with Erik Parker, the documentary’s director, Colorado’s first African American marijuana dispensary owner, Wanda James, says witnessing how mass incarceration of as many 800,000 Black people was used to respond to simple marijuana possession motivated her.
“This created the slave labor force that America has always had and when your race is targeted to be slave labor for Fortune 500 companies and you start to understand the combination of being arrested for simple possession and then spending usually about a decade of your life as a slave, i.e., in a privatized prison system, it became very concerning to us,” explained James.
A former naval officer and one-time political campaign manager, she owns the Simply Pure dispensary with her husband Scott Durrah in Denver. The couple got into the marijuana legalization movement after her brother was arrested for possession of only 4.5 ounces of the plant and given a 10-year sentence.
“We wanted to put a Black face on this movement and we wanted to be able to talk openly about this and we knew that they couldn’t make criminals out of me and my husband a decade ago,” she said. “People now talk about making money. When we started this, it was our dream not to be arrested and not to go to jail because that was real back then. So that’s what got us started in opening up the first dispensary operation.”