Rosario Dawson Is On A Mission

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Cannabis is a really hot investment right now.

CBD and THC are being widely productized, with billions of investment dollars funneling into marijuana-based startups across the country. In 2020 alone, the U.S. cannabis industry pulled in about $61B. Additionally, there has been a widening acceptance of recreational marijuana usage. To date, 12 states have legalized the use of recreational cannabis (in addition to medical marijuana) for individuals over age 21: California, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Colorado, Nevada, Vermont, Michigan, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Arizona (plus the District of Columbia).

Sadly, despite growing support, Black people are still much more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white people are—even though consumption rates are nearly identical across race groups.

And this pisses Rosario Dawson off.

The esteemed artist, designer and activist has long been an outspoken advocate for myriad inequities plaguing BIPOC, and this is no different. But this time, she’s effecting change from the inside out. Earlier this month, it was announced that she was joining the board of cannabis-infused beverage company Cann, the first queer Afrolatinx woman to do so.

“I love the fact that they are very aggressive about their efforts to expand their equity and inclusion mission,” Dawson said. “They’re already very diverse {queer-led, queer-founded} but they’re still white men and wanted to make sure they weren’t a part of further perpetuating the problem.” That problem she’s referring to is the school-to-prison pipeline, a direct policy descendant of President Nixon’s War on Drugs that still adversely affects Black communities to this day.

The ACLU reported in 2020 that cannabis arrests accounted for 43 percent of all drug arrests in 2018, the most recent year the report covers, and a majority of those arrests—89.6 percent—were for possession alone.

“Black men and women were disproportionately arrested and jailed for selling marijuana for years, and it has completely set back progress for people of color across this country,” she said. “I’m working with Cann to help move the needle on this issue in a real way from within the industry, not outside of it.”

Dawson understands that without proper representation, important issues aren’t raised, particularly at this time. “Since the pandemic, corporations have been making huge promises but there’s a lack of accountability where these companies are using people of color as tokens, and not actually offering substantive, long-term support.”

In addition to her mission to amplify awareness around the lopsided ‘war on weed,’ she’s also spreading the word on the health benefits of cannabis. “CDB has always been a strong part of my life because I do stunts and it’s helped with swelling,” she told ESSENCE.

Not only has CDB helped in her own life, but it provided some incredibly important healing power for her loved ones as well.

“My mother suffered from pain as a result of being in car crashes over the years and CDB has been critical in her pain management to help her get through her days,” she shared.

Additionally, she points out that CBD has been critical in managing pain for those in her life with chronic illnesses.

“My father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and I watched him tell his doctors that he didn’t want to take several different medications to help with pain tolerance when he could do that with CBD and I don’t blame him,” she said. “He said he wanted to stay away from Big Pharma and stick to more natural alternatives via big farm-a.”

With the long list of benefits cannabis provides, it’s no surprise that everyone is looking to get in, but unfortunately, Dawson pointed out that Black women are getting left behind.

“I believe only 12 Black women have been able to raise more than $1M in the cannabis industry to date,” Dawson said. “That doesn’t make sense.”

She’s right.

According to a Marijuana Business Daily report from 2017, only 4 percent of African-Americans were owners and founders of cannabis dispensaries. Black women made up just a little more than 5 percent of senior roles in the industry.

Although the numbers are staggering, Dawson shared that she wants women of color to reimagine the way they can break into the cannabis business.

“There are so many different ways to enter into the industry outside of just owning a dispensary,” which she pointed out can have high barriers to entry due to inequitable policies. “Since marijuana still isn’t federally mandated it can be difficult to accomplish that, but organizations like Supernova Women teach aspiring female founders how to cultivate a career in the space in out-of-the-box ways.”

The Cann board appointment is just one aspect of Dawson’s work to level the playing field in helping women of color become self-sufficient shareholders in the cannabis and natural plant medicine space. “There are a lot of things that need to be changed, but I’m excited to be a part of a team that’s trying to right some wrongs of the past, right now.