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Legalize It: Team Tosh and the difference between real equity and “performative lip service”

From the iconic song of 1976 to today’s activism, the Peter Tosh family continue fighting for cannabis justice for all. 

The Peter Tosh Foundation was created in 2017 by Tosh’s daughter, Niambe McIntosh, who is dedicated to continuing the fight for equitable legalization. Taking a holistic approach, the foundation has many branches that address the root causes and possible solutions to the intertwined issues of legalization, lack of equity, criminal charges and the so-called justice system. Through a series of initiatives and partnerships, the foundation carries on Peter Tosh’s legacy of speaking up on behalf of cannabis and its consumers.

Justice for Jawara & The Last Prisoner Project

Niambe’s brother Jawara was a musician and cannabis activist who, like his dad, espoused the medicinal and spiritual benefits of the plant. In 2017, Jawara was beaten into a coma while in Bergen County Jail in New Jersey, where he was serving a six month sentence related to cannabis charges.  The tragedy inspired the family to take a more active role in advocating for justice and calling attention to the brutal conditions people face when incarcerated for cannabis-related charges, however innocuous. “Justice for Jawara is a vehicle for change [and] is about justice for everyone,” McIntosh says.

Niambe McIntosh with Sarah Gerston and Steve De’Angelo of Last Prisoner Project and members of Jamaica’s attorney general’s office

Jawara passed away in July of 2020. The Justice for Jawara initiative recognizes the need for national legal reform and has used Jawara’s story to raise awareness of the inhumane conditions within the justice system. In addition to fundraising, participating in conferences and other activism, the foundation has partnered with The Last Prisoner Project. In their own words, the underlying ethos of the nonprofit is that anyone who wants to legalize and benefit from the business of cannabis must also work to “release and rebuild the lives of those who have suffered from cannabis criminalization.” The combined efforts are multifaceted, with direct support for currently incarcerated individuals, legal reform advocacy and lobbying, and programs for successful reentry to society.

Expungement clinics and Minorities for Medical Marijuana

McIntosh considers expungements an essential step in allowing nonviolent cannabis users the opportunity to pursue employment in the now legal cannabis industry and repairing the “psychological and economical destruct[ion] that conviction has on its offenders and their families.”

Dasheeda Dawson (The Weedhead), Niambe McIntosh, and Roz McCarthy, founder and CEO of Minorities for Medical Marijuana

In partnership with the national nonprofit Minorities For Medical Marijuana, the foundation has supported expungement clinics across the nation, where people can come for free education and advice from local lawyers about the process of getting a marijuana conviction removed from their record. McIntosh notes that some states are open to progress, while others are still gatekeeping with legal and bureaucratic policies. She highlights the importance of comprehensive federal reform: “Unfortunately the expungement process is different from state to state. While some have made expungement accessible and a priority, other states have made it costly, with a narrow scope of who actually qualifies for expungement.”  

Equity for all

Expunging a criminal conviction is a significant step to allowing people to reenter society with dignity and equitable opportunities for success, but Niambe notes that “Expungement isn’t enough.” The foundation focuses on the specific actions, policies, and services that are needed to truly realize the vision of social equity. McIntosh is clear about the need for substantive efforts, and calls out performative lip service that is often included in legal reform: “Legalization regulations can’t just include some loose jargon around social equity…There has to be funding that will bridge the economic and social gap. There needs to be wrap-around services, from therapy, to career training, and direct tracks to inclusion in the cannabis industry.”  

In addition to the partnerships with The Last Prisoner Project and Minorities For Medical Marijuana , the foundation’s Can’t Blame The Youth initiative is designed to educate, uplift, and empower the youth through offering immersive experiences–from lectures, field trips, and music workshops to scholarships and school renovations. 

Through the many initiatives and strategic partnerships, the Peter Tosh Foundation is using their platform to drive the change they want to see. Whether it’s through fundraising, awareness, or direct programs and outreach, the foundation has an ambidextrous approach to healing and creating communities. As McIntosh says, at the core of their efforts is a knowledge that “the efforts to have equity, justice, and legalization prevail are global efforts.”

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1 thought on “Legalize It: Team Tosh and the difference between real equity and “performative lip service””

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