It was at once something I never thought I’d see and something I’ve been working to see: 140 professionals in a room listening to cannabis and hemp industry innovators pitch their startups to a panel of judges representing the financial, medical and legal fields. Massachusetts' first #StartUpHigh event was a huge success, and proof of the existing attention to, and talent in, New England's budding cannabis and hemp industries.
But 140 people interested in learning about emerging businesses in this growing sector is relatively small compared to what one might expect to see at another event showcasing emerging companies in an industry that will see $6.7 billion in revenue in 2016. They don't yet know enough about the industry that has the potential to employ thousands of Americans and generate billions in industrial and personal revenue, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in related state tax revenue that would come into use in towns and cities like Boston, where I work, and which recently announced significant (and disturbing) budget cuts for the city’s public schools.
But I get it. People are still nervous to come out on a Friday night and “admit” that they are interested in learning about something that the Federal government has scheduled as a substance as lethal as heroin. But in 2016, with the open and immediate access that we have to primary sources and over 22,000 published scientific studies related to the medical benefits of marijuana, and with our government owning a U.S. patent on the use of marijuana as a neuroprotectant, we are realizing, one by one, that we’ve been duped and that the "War on Drugs" is actually a war on innovation and progress.
It isn’t illegal to learn about job opportunities in an industry that has something for everyone. It isn’t illegal to initiate conversations about ballot issues that have the potential to bring people the right to choose cannabis over opiates. It isn’t illegal to explore the American criminal justice system and see the blatant disadvantage that African Americans and Hispanic Americans have in being able to fully participate legally in the fastest-growing industry in America. It isn’t illegal to expose the disparity that exists between arrest of white versus non-white people for possession of marijuana, and to want to do something about it.
It isn’t illegal to be curious. It isn’t illegal to review scientific data and historical facts and evolve your understanding of something that you had been misinformed and intentionally deceived about through your entire life. It isn’t illegal to learn. Learning gives us power to make informed decisions, fight injustices and effect change. Be curious, attend events and support groups where you can learn, and make your own decisions at home and at the voting booth in November. And just say "know."
Beth Waterfall is Chair of Women Grow: Boston.