This past Thursday, President Joe Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, a federal holiday. The measure had passed unanimously in the Senate, and in the House by a vote of 415-14.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Gordon Granger, a Union general, arrived in Galveston, Texas to inform enslaved African-Americans that the Civil War had ended and that they had been freed under the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.
On arrival in Galveston, General Granger issued five written orders, but the highlight was Order No. 3, which included the words: “All slaves are free.”
The proclamation ended slavery only in states that had seceded from the Union in 1860-61; an end to slavery throughout the entire country (which in 1865 comprised 34 states) would not become law until December 1865, when the 13th Amendment was adopted into the Constitution.
As has also been true for the legalization of cannabis, states have been out in front of the federal government in celebrating Juneteenth. In 1979, thanks in large part to the efforts of state representative Al Edwards, Texas passed legislation making Juneteenth a holiday, and this week, Hawaii became the 49th state to recognize the day (South Dakota is the only state that has not yet passed legislation making Juneteenth an annual holiday, but did mark the day in 2020).
The federal recognition of Juneteenth represents one more small step in our national journey to come to terms with the United States’ history of slaveholding and racial injustice, and the holiday provides an opportunity to not only celebrate, but also to reflect on injustices past and present, and to mourn losses. These losses include life, of course, but also lost opportunities for generations of Black Americans.
Decades of cannabis-related arrests, convictions and incarcerations have inflicted structural, financial and psychic damage on many communities nationwide. The legalization of medical and adult-use cannabis has been accompanied in some states by social equity programs designed to benefit people and communities that have been damaged by “the War on Drugs.” A recent example is New York State’s recently passed Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, or MRTA, which sets a goal of issuing 50% of licenses for distribution and retail to social equity applicants.
In the New York example, the definition of “social equity applicant” includes people with past marijuana convictions or who have relatives with such records, people who live in economically distressed areas or places where cannabis criminalization has been enforced in a discriminatory manner, people with incomes lower than 80% of the median income of the county in which they reside, minority- and women-owned business, disabled veterans, and financially distressed farmers.
A number of cannabis-legal states have implemented regulations aimed at redressing social inequity, but most of these measures do not go far enough; they open the door for “social equity applicants”, but fail to provide the administrative and financial support that in most cases will be necessary to ensure success in the cut-throat world of cannabis production and distribution.
We see significant opportunities for equity licensees and non-equity businesspeople to team up to share knowledge and opportunity, to create profitable businesses, and to help repair some of the damage inflicted by “the War on Drugs.”
On this historic day, the first Juneteenth to be celebrated officially nationwide, we applaud President Biden and the members of Congress who voted in support of the measure.