Wanda James, owner of Denver's Simply Pure dispensary, was the first black woman to open a dispensary in Colorado. Long an outspoken critic of social inequality in the cannabis industry, she was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award at the Cannabis Business Awards. And when news dropped that Sessions had revoked the Cole Memorandum — a 2013 policy that offered protection from federal prosecution for the cultivation, distribution and possession of pot in states where it is legal — James immediately saw the social ramifications, calling the move "racist and geared to slave labor."
In fact, James sees the rescission as Sessions's attempt to restart the drug war...and support private prisons. "Pot is the reason behind mass incarceration. Pot is behind the drug war in this country. That's what fills our jails," she says. "That's all this is about. Because if we talk about the industry being created, what are they trying to shut down, tax revenue? New jobs? This is a civil-rights battle."
A 2016 report from the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch found that white adults are more likely to use illicit drugs than blacks, but black adults were more than two and a half times as likely to be arrested for drug possession. Black adults were also more than four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than whites in 39 states that provided data, with small communities in Montana and large metropolitan areas like Manhattan both showing disparaging stats in drug arrests among the two demographics. And many of those arrested wound up in private prisons.
Former AG Sally Yates issued a memo in 2016 calling on the Department of Justice to begin curtailing its use of private prisons, but Sessions rescinded that memo just days after becoming AG in early 2017, saying it "impaired the bureau's ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system."
President Donald Trump supported Sessions's rescission of the Yates memo, and according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump also supported Sessions's decision to revoke the Cole memo on January 4.
"Clearly, there has been nothing from this administration that has been helping the industry," James says. [Trump supporters] supported him because they thought he'd be good on state cannabis and good for industry. It's complete bullshit."
As a pot business owner, James says she'd be surprised if politicians in states with legal pot industries supported a crackdown (and Colorado's congressional representatives have all come out against the rescission). As an activist, she sees this as an opportunity to take the push for legalization to the next level.
"I actually welcome this fight," James says. "It's time to force Congress to legalize this on a federal level. The people have spoken, and it's time for the elected officials to do their jobs."