By Marlon Rice
Last week, the largest historically Black university in Louisiana, Southern University, launched its own CBD line. It’s called Alafia, from the Yoruba word that means “inner peace.” This is a monumental feat on many levels, but in order for you to understand this, I think we need to start at the beginning.
CBD stands for Cannabidiol. Cannabidiol is one of 113 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, the plant more commonly referred to as “marijuana”. The term cannabinoid refers to any of the chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. CBD accounts for 40% of the plant’s extract. In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of CBD to treat certain forms of epilepsy, but there are many benefits of the use of CBD, including: anxiety, inflammation, depression, pain management, to reduce acne, to benefit heart health and even to reduce the symptoms of diabetes.
When discussing the plant we call marijuana, most people talk about the effects of the THC in the plant. THC stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is the primary psychoactive cannabinoid of the plant. In short, THC is what gets you high. THC does have medicinal uses as well, such as in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. However, when people talk about the feeling of being “high” from marijuana, they are talking about the effects of THC. THC is what gets you high. CBD does not.
Marijuana is currently legal for recreational use in 11 states, and available for medical use in 33 states. Here in New York, medical marijuana is legal. Although marijuana isn’t yet available for recreational use in New York State, the state is offering the opportunity to file for a dispensary license. The fees and start-up costs associated with the license is as follows: There is a $10,000 nonrefundable application fee. And then there is a $200,000 registration fee that will be refunded to those who aren’t approved for the license. So, if you want to apply for a license, you have to have at least $210,000 in cash, just to register. You do not need any license to sell CBD products in New York State as long as the oil is sourced from industrial hemp and the THC content is below 0.3%.
In 2019, the State of Washington generated $319 million in revenue from the sale of marijuana. California generated $300 million. Colorado generated $267 million. This marijuana market that these states have chosen to capitalize on was created and maintained for decades by Black and Brown people. It was Black and Brown people working as mules, bringing the marijuana across the border from Mexico. It was Black and Brown people that sold the marijuana in the inner cities and metropolitan areas. There have been lives maintained by the marijuana trade, regular people that have risked freedom selling an illegal substance to make enough money to support their families. They made the market, keeping marijuana available for people to purchase and embody. But the legalization of marijuana effectively separates the common dealer from the market.
Dispensaries offer more variety at comparable rates. They are safe spaces with a bunch of different products derived from marijuana that engage the customer in a way that buying dime bags on the corner could never compare. So, the economic boom, anchored by the market made by Black and Brown people, is now controlled by corporations and privately owned entities that are, by and large, not Black and Brown people. I don’t know any weed dealers that could cough up that $210,000 application fee to become a dispensary owner in New York State.
So, how can Black and Brown people find plateaus of economic empowerment in this brave new world of legalization? One way is through the use and sale of CBD products. Enter Southern University.
The move to launch an entire line of CBD products is bigger than just the products themselves. By entering into the cannabis industry, Southern University has effectively created an institutional pipeline for students interested in the field of cannabis. Students can go to the school, learn in-depth about the plant, and then work at Alafia if they wish, or even venture out into other job opportunities in the industry. This is a direct answer to the back-door income disparity which is inevitable in Black and Brown communities where weed is legalized and dispensaries begin taking all of the business away from the dealers who made and maintained the market.
I hope this business model takes hold at other HBCUs. Eddie Kane from The Five Heartbeats said that crossing over ain’t nothing but a double-cross. The legalization of weed may seem like a great idea to tokers, but the underside of that crossover is really a double-cross for many in the Black community. Southern University has introduced an option to fight against that. Good for them.