The Rev. Al Sharpton stands with participants before the start of a silent march to end the "stop-and-frisk" program in New York, Sunday, June 17, 2012. Thousands of protesters from civil rights groups walked down New York City’s Fifth Avenue in total silence on Sunday as they marched in defiance of “stop-and-frisk” tactics employed by city police. (Seth Wenig, Associated Press)

Al Sharpton calls medical marijuana use “a civil right”

BOSTON — For civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton, cannabis legalization lands squarely under his purview.

“I will never tell you how to grow marijuana, I don’t know how to do that,” Sharpton told an audience in Boston Thursday. “But I know how to agitate.”

Sharpton’s remarks came during the Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition in Boston, where he argued marijuana — especially the business opportunities afforded by legalization — is a civil rights issue.

“It should be a civil right for people to maintain and enhance their health,” Sharpton said. “Second, as this industry builds, it should be inclusive. Blacks cannot be the ones that go to jail and others to the bank.”

New Frontier Data’s John Kagia, who came to the conference from Washington, D.C., saw Sharpton speak at the CWCB Expo in Los Angeles. Kagia, executive vice president of industry analytics at New Frontier Data, studies the numbers behind what makes the legal cannabis industry tick. He agreed with Sharpton that now is the time to have the civil rights discussion.

“The critical difference between the people who have been fundamental to this industry and the people who have been excluded is that they got caught,” Kagia said.

He was referring to higher instances of marijuana-related arrests among minorities, mentioned in Sharpton’s speech, and something that has a lasting impact, even after legalization. The American Civil Liberties Union has put together a pile of research on the subject.

On top of the criminal side, Kagia added, there’s the money aspect. Because banks are federally insured, and marijuana is not legalized federally, most institutions are wary of being involved with marijuana businesses. That can mean that people who want to start a business in the cannabis industry need a lot of upfront capital.

“We have more in common than we have apart. We can serve each other’s interest without losing each other’s identity,” Sharpton said during his talk. “We must expand the opportunity, we must expand the business opportunity to include all of us.”

In addition to business, Sharpton pointed out, using marijuana, especially for medical reasons, should be a right.

“Who would think that we are in the 21st century debating about whether we are going to cover healthcare for people and debating about whether we’re going to let people who are suffering use medical marijuana?” Sharpton asked, his tone marked by incredulity.

The reverend, who spoke at the expo for about 20 minutes Thursday, also preemptively answered a question he said he’s heard repeatedly, on why a minister would be advocating for a drug industry.

“I’m for same-sex marriage and I’m not gay,” Sharpton said. “People have a right to do things I’m not engaged in.”

Roger Brauninger, a biosafety program manager at the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation, said he’s glad someone like Sharpton is advocating for cannabis, and he wants to see more celebrities involved. Brauninger’s company is based in Maryland.

“It is a civil right and having people make political hay of the minutiae….” Brauninger shook his head. “We need more prominent people stepping up.”

The exposition began Wednesday, and will continue into Friday at the John B. Hynes Convention Center in Boston. More than 50 exhibitors related to the marijuana industry are participating, and attendees can attend dozens of seminars. Seminars featured everything from grow tips, to investment advice, to myriad businesses related to marijuana, to discussions of nationwide trends.

Information from Milford Daily News
Alison Bosma can be reached at 508-626-3957 or Find her on Twitter at @AlisonBosma.