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Can the cannabis industry be an agent of social justice? Or is it just another big business?

Jason White, chief marketing officer at Curaleaf Holdings Inc., chats with Valda Ricks, a deputy state’s attorney from Baltimore City, during a legal clinic co-sponsored by Curaleaf in Baltimore last February. (André Chung/for The Washington Post)

Jason White has created dazzling advertising and marketing campaigns for Nike and Disney, the World Cup and Olympic Games, to name a few. But when the Georgetown alumnus told his parents he was exiting Apple-owned Beats by Dre for the cannabis industry, the announcement landed with a thud. “What they heard was, ‘You’re going to sell weed,’ ” the 44-year-old said, laughing.

White is now chief marketing officer at Curaleaf Holdings Inc., which says it is the world’s largest provider (by revenue) of legal medical and recreational cannabis. While some liken legal pot to a gold rush, White — who is African American and Cuban — talks of repairing communities harmed by the war on drugs. “Some are very wary of cannabis, having seen people arrested and their voting rights taken away,” he says. “But as cannabis has become more mainstream, others don’t see harm, but opportunity. I want to use this platform to help improve society.”

I first interviewed White at a Baltimore hotel in February 2020. Curaleaf has dispensaries in Maryland, and his team had flown in from the company’s Los Angeles office. With his gracious manners and clean-cut looks, he’s a wholesome ambassador for Cannabis sativa, the plant from which marijuana is derived. Indigenous cultures used cannabis for healing and spiritual rituals, White told me, until it became criminalized amid a “larger story of oppression.”

America is the world’s largest cannabis market, but the use, possession or sale of marijuana over certain amounts remains illegal under federal law. Still, state laws are shifting, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Following ballot measures in November, cannabis will be legal for adult recreational use in 15 states and Washington, D.C. Medical use will be allowed in 36 states.

For some, the irony of marijuana becoming a big business is cruel. Decades of disparate drug arrests and sentencing have ravaged Black and Brown communities. “While many large companies are making millions, many people remain imprisoned because of the historic classification of the plant as a Schedule 1 drug in the very same states where adult use is legal,” says Stormy Simon, executive director of the board for Mission Green, which is part of the Weldon Project — a nonprofit that pushes to free those incarcerated for nonviolent cannabis offenses. It strikes her as hypocritical that cannabis dispensaries were deemed “essential” operations amid the pandemic in some jurisdictions yet the drug remains illegal in others.

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Donna M. Owens on Washington Post

Published: January 25, 2021

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