Unpacking Biden’s Marijuana Pardon Policy

Like most of the legal talk in the industry, there is more than what meets the eye with the new cannabis pardon policy announced by President Biden. That’s why we wanted to talk with an expert in the field to really understand what the marijuana pardon policy means for the cannabis industry.

In our latest Kaya Cast podcast episode, “Unpacking Biden's Marijuana Pardon Policy,” we had the opportunity to speak with Tahir Johnson, Director of Social Equity and Inclusion at the Marijuana Policy Project.

Although his background is in wealth management and banking, Tahir’s curiosity in the industry was piqued when he saw GW Pharma, a pharmaceutical company that featured a cannabis drug, go public. Upon taking a closer look, Tahir came face to face with the realization of the lack of minority ownership and social equity. That’s when he knew it was time to step in.

Today, Tahir advises legislators, regulators, and other industry stakeholders on best practices to ensure fair cannabis laws and programs. He is also the CEO of Simply Pure Trenton NJ, a black-owned recreational cannabis dispensary coming soon to Ewing Township, New Jersey, and the host of the Cannabis Diversity Report podcast.

Here are our top 3 takeaways from our discussion about Biden’s pardon policy:

  1. The impact is monumental for the industry
  2. Decriminalizing cannabis creates opportunities to make the market more inclusive
  3. We can use the momentum to promote inclusion and diversity in the industry
“I think that as we do look at legalizing it, front and center has to remain, how do we help and make sure that we can positively impact those communities from something that's had a negative impact for such a long time.”

Let’s get into it.

1. The impact is monumental for the industry

In unpacking Biden’s cannabis pardon policy, the first aspect is looking at who it impacts. Upon first read-through of the Proclamation on Granting Pardon for the Offense of Simple Possession of Marijuana, it’s clear that pardon is intended, as the title explains. The truth is, though, that the number of people with offenses of simple possession of marijuana are slim to none.

Still, you have to look beyond the numbers. While this pardon may not directly touch the number of Americans we want to see, it’s hard to say that the marijuana pardon policy is not making an impact.

Simply put, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Being in the cannabis industry, we are all well and familiar with the stigmas surrounding us. Any type of legal protection coming into play is not just one small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind, so to speak.

“When you look at it, I know in terms of the number of people that it's actually impacted, it may be smaller, I think, than people may have thought. But at the same time, I think what is exciting and what I think we have to give them credit for is some movement in the right direction.” 

An elderly woman using and enjoying cannabis.

2. Decriminalizing cannabis creates opportunities to make the market more inclusive

Cannabis convictions overwhelmingly impact black and brown communities. When marijuana provides a reason for law enforcement to pull you over and search you, something as simple as the alleged scent of marijuana can become a pretense for locking people up.

But, in the motion of decriminalizing cannabis and pardoning previous offenders, we open up opportunities to make the market more inclusive. Take, for example, the work that Tahir does to build pathways for people to work in the industry.

"I partnered with the New Jersey Reentry Corporation and made a commitment to hire at least 10% of our employees from people that have previous cannabis charges. For me, I know how important it is because… I've seen firsthand for years. And now, I'm super excited to be in the industry and have an opportunity to share and create this generational wealth opportunity.”
A diverse group of people smiling in a semi-circle celebrating the marijuana pardon policy.

3. Use the momentum to promote inclusion and diversity in the industry

It’s incredibly challenging to start a cannabis business in the United States. For most cannabis licensing, you are required a minimum amount of capital in the bank to apply and proper real estate. Unfortunately, without the federal government’s support, purchasing real estate for a dispensary is no simple feat.

We want to see the state levels now lowering the barrier to entry.

Tahir notes, "In 2019, when I applied for a license in New Jersey, it was $20,000 to apply. Of course, $18,000 of it was refundable. But, if you look at people from minority communities, Black and Latinos have one-tenth the wealth of our white counterparts...”

Final Thoughts on Navigating the Cannabis License Landscape

Although Biden’s cannabis pardon policy isn’t exactly the miracle the industry needed, it’s action nonetheless.

“It's a step, right? It's a step in the right direction, and I definitely applaud it for being done. After you take one step, let's take two. Let's take three. Let's keep stepping until we cross the line. Thank you again for that, President Biden. We hope to see what more can be done on cannabis policy reform during your time in office.”

If you’re looking to learn more about Tahir’s expertise in social equity, as well as more on Biden’s marijuana pardon policy, we recommend checking out the full podcast episode!

Promotional graphic for the marijuana podcast, Kaya Cast, which explores marijuana policies and federal laws

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