Legalization is a Civil Rights Issue

An Interview with Lauren Kruz, co-Founder of Tree Femme Collective

by alyssa ford

Tree Femme Collective is a collective of creatives, activists and storytellers fighting to de-stigmatize and normalize cannabis as well as work to support women and end sexism in the cannabis industry. Sexism is not the only issue facing the industry however, with structural racism causing a disproportionate amount of criminalization among people of color. Along with over 20 organizations nationwide, Tree Femme Collective recently launched Equity First Alliance, which is a “national group of organizers working at the intersection of racial equity, restorative justice and the cannabis industry.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Tree Femme co-founder, Lauren Kruz, where we discussed the origins of the collective, the politics that surround race and the cannabis industry, the lasting harms of the War on Drugs and what we can do to restore and reform the current political system in the U.S.

Artwork by  Savina Monet

Artwork by Savina Monet

SUSTAIN: I'd like to start by asking if you could give some background on your organization and how you got started?

Lauren: Cannabis has been my medicine since I was 16 years old living in Detroit and through the 11 years I lived in Chicago. I have lived and worked in communities where inequity is omnipresent and my work has always been focused on the many ways in which we can heal in community.

Tree Femme began on a rare rainy Los Angeles day at the High Times Business Conference, shortly after moving to LA in 2016 where I quickly realized sexism was extremely prevalent in the industry and that womxn were not fairly represented. Womxn were objectified and the Cheech and Chong stoner bro vibe was strong. I knew there was a need for a new inclusive and intelligent narrative and Tree Femme was born. Literally, that moment - the name came to me while sitting in a workshop on cultivation.

SUSTAIN: What are your goals as a collective?

Lauren: My background is in the healing arts, community organizing and creative production and our co-founder, Tory Baxter, is a filmmaker and creative producer- so community building and creating content and media around cannabis education and advocacy is our focus.

Our goal is for the cannabis industry to be an industry that operates with integrity. One that understands that we have a responsibility to repair and heal the many wrongs of the past. To support womxn to rise and have power in the cannabis space and to make sure that space is safe and inclusive.  

SUSTAIN: Can you describe a little for me what the current situation is regarding the politics surrounding cannabis and how it is linked to structural racism in the United States?

Lauren: Thousands of people are currently incarcerated for non-violent cannabis crimes while some of us get flower delivered to our front door.

The War on Drugs has created a grossly unequal outcome for black and brown communities, manifested through racial discrimination by law enforcement. The ACLU dropped this stat stating that the black community is four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis crimes than whites, when both black and white people are using cannabis at the same rate. In some states if you have a prior cannabis conviction on your record, you're then unable to participate legally in the industry. On a federal level the proposed 2018 Senate Farm Bill would legalize hemp but bar people with felony convictions from participating. So where does that leave us? White folks are cashing in on legal weed and we oppress POC once again.

Image Courtesy of Tree Femme Collective

Image Courtesy of Tree Femme Collective

SUSTAIN: How can we legalize while also repairing the harms of the War on Drugs? Do you think some people fighting for legalization leave this structural racism out of the conversation?

Lauren: Out of the 31 states that have legalized adult use or medical cannabis- California, Massachusetts and Portland, Oregon are the only places where social equity programs exist.

Some people fighting for legalization and starting cannabis businesses are absolutely leaving racism and social equity out of the conversation. Cannabis companies are receiving billion dollar valuations while we have people in jail for nonviolent cannabis convictions and very few people are doing anything about it.

SUSTAIN: How do you think the current political system can be dismantled and rebuilt to be more fair and just?

Lauren: Social Equity programs in all 50 states is a good way to start. And we need to move beyond licensure. Right now social equity is limited to how many licenses are distributed to people affected by the War on Drugs. We need to think bigger picture and find ways to provide high-mobility, living wage jobs and new pathways to health, wealth, and wellness for communities of color.

SUSTAIN: What can local people who want to help, but feel like they don't have a voice do to help implement necessary change?

Lauren: I love a good call to action!

VOTE IN ALL ELECTIONS INCLUDING LOCAL ELECTIONS. Do your homework and know what's happening where you live. Never take for granted that you have the right to vote. Not everyone does - especially the people we are advocating for.

VOTE with your wallet, support ethical businesses in the cannabis industry that are taking this work seriously and/or are run by womxn or minorities.

Donate to Equity First Alliance. We are organizers and freedom fighters that need funding to be able to support ourselves while working in the small window of time we have to change the course of the cannabis industry -- and by doing so, we can prevent further harms to the most impacted communities and create a model of reparative economic and criminal justice. We can't do this without funding.

Donate your skills to organizations working toward equity in cannabis. We need all the help we can get!

Check out the Equity First Alliance Campaign Video here.