Cannabis and Social Justice: The Impacts of Criminalization

Policy Committee explores the impact of cannabis criminalization in PA

PHILADELPHIA, March 1 – Today, the House Democratic Policy Committee examined the impacts of cannabis criminalization in Pennsylvania, including the downstream effect of criminalization on families, diversity disparities in the medical cannabis industry itself, and what legislators should consider in legalizing adult-use cannabis.  

“We convened this meeting today to discuss the social ramifications of the criminalization of marijuana,” said Rep. Amen Brown. “If we are going to talk about legalization of adult-use cannabis, we must carefully examine the history of criminalization on our communities of color. My hope with this hearing is that we can learn how to save time, money, and resources by legalizing adult-use cannabis.”

Arrests for marijuana possession make up 42 percent of all drug arrests in Pennsylvania and nearly two-thirds of those arrests are people of color. Lawmakers heard from Isaac “Ikey Raw” Gardner, a victim of cannabis criminalization who was caught for possession in 2000, who still suffers from the mark on his record, but is now a legal medical marijuana user.

“It is the duty of legislators to ensure that lack of diversity and shutting out communities will not be tolerated,” said Rep. Darisha Parker. “We must do what we can in the legislature to make laws that will even the playing field, keep Pennsylvanians safe and healthy, and usher in a new era.”

Compelling testimony came from current medical cannabis growers and producers in Pennsylvania recognizing past failings and the latest initiatives to improve social justice in the industry. Lester Hollis, Hollis Ventures LLC, shared concerns about how the rollout of the medical marijuana industry left out people and communities of color. He referenced the fact that there are no medical marijuana growers/processors that have any appreciable equity held by African Americans or Latinos.

“We have an opportunity here in Pennsylvania to make adjustments to medical and adult-use cannabis laws so that when the drug is legalized, we can ensure that companies that are minority owned are set up with the skills that guarantee them for success,” said Rep. Gina H. Curry. “As we move forward, we must always consider social equity in this space of adult-use cannabis because we cannot go back and continue to see the effects of criminalization.”

Other testifiers consisted of Andrea Lindsay, lead investigator and mitigation specialist, Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity; Jervonne Singletary, director of government and regulatory affairs, GoodBlend PA; Benjamin Pascal, chief business officer, Invisible Sentinel; Andrea Foster, president, Westpark Apartments Resident Council.  

Information about this and other House Democratic Policy Committee hearings can be found at