Al Sharpton: Advocating for Justice, Cannabis and Equality

Al Sharpton: Advocating for Justice, Cannabis and Equality

Alfred Charles Sharpton Jr. was born on October 3rd, 1954 and is a Baptist minister, television talk show host, American civil rights activist, and a former White House adviser, who 60 Minutes named the “go-to black leader” during President Barack Obama’s administration. He’s been accused of being many controversial things, including an FBI informant. Nowadays, he’s a vegan who has joined the cannabis crusade helping to seek justice for the marginalized people who’ve been affected most by the unfair drug laws and the prison industrial complex. While Al does not partake in cannabis recreationally, he believes in the medicinal properties of the plant. Keiko Beatie had the opportunity to interview the enigmatic Reverend Sharpton at The Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo in Los Angeles, and you can read their full conversation right here.

Keiko:
It’s a pleasure and honor sir.

Rev:
Thank you.

Keiko:
I understand what is going on for a lot of people of color and being able to increase the quality of their lives in a positive manner. What do you say to people everywhere about your feelings on Cannabis in the United States?

Rev:
I think that it has been well established that there are many significant health reasons, that cannabis is needed and should not be criminalized. And I think that the United States needs to deal with this in a very mature and reasonable way. One thing about science is science is not against cannabis, it deals in facts. And the fact is that cannabis has proved relief for pain and should be available to those that need it on a legal basis.

The other fact is that it has been used in a very negative way, by the criminal justice system. It has interrupted and permanently altered people’s lives for what is minor involvement. And I think that we can not afford to be separate and return back to the dark ages of just locking up people and creating criminal records because they engaged in marijuana.

Keiko:
And you’re talking about the large amounts of people of color and latinos who are in the prison system right now for just simple non-violent possession?

Rev:
Simple non-violent possession.

Keiko:
It’s deplorable.

Rev:
It is not only deplorable, it’s turned into a business because you’re dealing with those,
let’s not forget this administration, one of the first things they did was bring back privatized jails on a federal level. And when you have people in the business of prisons, full occupancy is a personal profit to them. I mean locking people up like that is crazy.

We worked with the Obama administration on commutations. He commuted more low level drug offenders, nonviolent, than the last eleven presidents combined. And I think that’s the way to go. And it’s the disproportionate amount of black and latino communities of people that have been incarcerated and or have this on their record. That limits what they can do for their families, limits what jobs they can hold and I think that’s horrendous and we should not even be thinking about that in the 21st century.

Keiko:
So Reverend, what do you think people in the cannabis community can do to also support? Share with their officials, municipalities and government? What can we do to help change their their thoughts?
Rev:
I think what they must do, they must as we go along as we approach this midterm election, they must make it an issue. Which is why they need all kinds of people like me involved, it must be an issue. Legalization must be an issue. And state and congressional candidates must take a position while they are running that they will support legalization.

Keiko:
And being that there are twenty nine states moving towards more of a balanced system, we still have twenty one more states that are not. So we need to focus on that.

Rev:
We need to focus on the twenty one states that’s not even really moving that way and we need to secure it in those twenty nine states so that we will not see with the incoming of the new attorney general who’s talking about the war on drugs, that there is any retreat in the twenty nine states that have moved in that direction.

Keiko:
Reverend, I know you’re looking for inclusiveness, definitely for people of color and minorities. What about other people from other religions?
Rev:
I think that we need a blueprint for people that have been marginalized period, in the industry. Women, people of other religions, people of other nationalities. I think that we’ve got to, just as people have purposely and intentionally excluded some, we must purposefully and intentionally have a focus on how we can all be guaranteed inclusiveness.

Keiko:
As a spiritual man, what is it that you feel you pray for most?

Rev:
I pray that people will have the liberty to make their choices in life, as long as they do not hurt others. Even if they are choices I disagree with. And that we protect the right of everyone to have equal protection once they make those choices.

Keiko:
Have you ever utilized cannabis personally?

Rev:
No I’m not a cannabis user. I grew up in the Church of. They did not smile on that. But I have a lot of friends and family that have, some who have suffered from the criminal justice system.

Keiko:
So what do you feel about Genesis Chapter 1 Verses 28-29: “And God said behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of the earth.”

Rev:
I believe in the whole bible and in the bible, there are herbs right there. So you can’t cherry pick the bible, and choose what you like. You choose what’s in the bible. I just uh, I think a lot of us deal with our culture and try and use that to justify the parts that we like. Clearly we choose for instance the herbs in the bible are clearly there.

Keiko:
So with that, have you ever drank alcohol?

Rev:
Alcohol? I’ve had a drink, I don’t drink. Me I think the last time I took a drink was twenty five years ago. But I didn’t find a whole lot of Johnny Walker Red, a little wine.

Keiko:
They say right now the cannabis industry and community is 17% minorities. Now do you feel that we need to up that?

Rev:
I think that it ought to reflect the population. Particularly when you go to states where the minority community is far more than that. I think that we need to up that and we need to make sure that the laws are not an impediment. Because you have certain states that come up with laws like “you can’t have a marijuana arrest or you have to pay a certain amount of money.” You may come from areas where access to capital is not as easy as it is for others. I think we gotta relax the laws more to be more fair for everybody despite their social, economic or legal status.

Keiko:
And looking futuristically then, what would you like to see on our next ballot? The presidential ballot then. Who do you think could really support the mainstreaming of cannabis as a medicine?

Rev:
I don’t know a person yet. But I think that whoever that person is that they ought to do something that collectively make sure that is always open. I’m proud to be black. I’m always someone, given my civil rights background that thinks that the policy should be the priority and the person comes from the policy not the policy comes from the individual person.

Keiko:
Have you had anybody actually be dissatisfied that you have come out in supported cannabis?

Rev:
Oh yeah. I’ve had other ministers and faith leaders that said to me that they disagree with my position, and I should not take that position. But I’ve been known to take controversial positions before. I’m not concerned about that. You know I think you should be more concerned with being right than with being popular.

Keiko:
Anything else you’d like to say to people?

Rev:
Again. We must have a broad coalition. We must make this an issue. We can’t do it staying in our separate tents. We’ve gotta have a big tent and move forward.

Keiko:
First thing we will all pray and focus on is unscheduling cannabis.

Rev:
We must deal with decriminalization first. We can all agree upon that.

Keiko:
Thank you, Al.

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