Black farmer at Dallas Farmers Market. Photo credit: Renee Thompson

Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ criminal justice transformation may turn the tide for Black cannabis farmers

Continuing her commitment to decriminalize marijuana, VEEP candidate, Senator Harris pushes for federal legalization

Insufficient Coronavirus economic relief coupled with the inequity of the criminal justice system has caused a ripple effect among Black cannabis farmers. While at the brunt of a widening economic wealth gap, Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ criminal justice reform may be just what they need.

According to the National Farmers Union, the $2.2 trillion HEROES ACT allocates funding for local and regional meat processing, farm stress programs and nutrition assistance. “I mean we could all use more money,” says Juanita Chavarria, owner of Baby Chavs, an urban microgreen and herb farm. 

Chavarria describes that farming during the COVID-19 pandemic, in a single income household has been no easy feat. “I have two children and with homeschooling and budgeting…Yeah we need some extra relief,” says Chavarria. 

Be that as it may, depending on how the USDA disburses the funds, financial relief for black farmers may still be a distant hope. But even so, economic reform could be on its way in the form of legislation. Senator Harris tweeted, “It’s time to end mass incarceration. This includes legalizing marijuana, sentencing reforms, and abolishing private prisons.” 

Just two years prior the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, was passed into law. It prohibited anyone convicted of a drug-related felony from participating in legalized hemp production for 10 years after their date of conviction, unless they are part of a hemp pilot program authorized by the 2014 farm bill. This caused a ripple effect among Black Americans as they make up nearly 30 percent of all drug-related arrests, in spite of accounting for 12.5 percent of substance users. 

As per Senator Harris’ plan to transform the criminal justice system and re-envision public safety in America, “It is past time to end the failed war on drugs and it begins with legalizing marijuana,” she said. 

| Read: Kamala Harris backs Booker’s restorative justice legislation legalizing marijuana
Kamala Harris at Shaw University on her campaign for Biden-Harris presidential ticket. If they win, Harris will be the first Black woman Vice-President If. Photo credit: Shaw University

Senator Harris’ Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act would legalize marijuana at the federal level by retroactively removing substance from the Controlled Substance Act. Additionally it would allow states to set their own policies. Lastly, it would require expungement on motion and resentencing for marijuana based convictions. 

If passed into law, Harris’ act has the potential to close the black farmer economic wealth gap significantly, as it would open up the floodgates for many more black cannabis farmers. “This is one of blessings that we got from our ancestors and I feel like a lot more people are starting to embrace that generational blessing again,” says Chavarria. 

Lack of funding has been the status quo for black farmers and the effects are residual. Recently, the $2 trillion CARES ACT issued $23.5 billion in aid to farmers that was disbursed by the USDA. Howbeit, programs of the USDA have historically excluded black farmers. The inequity of the USDA was so drastic that it led to the 1999 Pigford V. Glickman class action lawsuit that resulted in $1.25 billion in settlements. 

The delay of another coronavirus relief package has only further economically exacerbated black farmers. In an interview with ABC News, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stated that a deal must be reached in the next 48 hours if a relief package is to be released by election day. “I am optimistic that we can reach an agreement before the election,” says Speaker Pelosi in a press release she released yesterday.

Tashanta Snyder

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