According to Mitch Meyers, the hardest part of the cannabis industry is not even growing the cannabis plant. In the city of St. Louis, the American businesswoman has built a small empire of nurseries and cannabis stores in recent years. In her shiny display cases, the cannabis buds are displayed like jewelry at a jeweler. One shelf further are the many non-smokable products that now make up half of Meyers’ turnover: candies, cookies, balms, chocolate or mouth drops. All enriched with THC, the mind-altering substance in weed. Just like her own company name (BeLeaf), the product names often play corny on familiar terms from the cannabis culture: from Mohi (a Hawaiian weed beer) to Bong Appétite (a cookbook full of weed recipes). And here her work becomes difficult, says Meyers in one of her branches in a hip nightlife district of St. Louis. “We often come up with fifteen names for a new product. But it turns out that ten of them have already been registered by others.” In Swade, the cannabis shop of Meyers , the cannabis buds are displayed as jewelery at a jeweler. Photo Theo R. Welling Half of Meyers’ sales today are made up of non-smokable marijuana products , such as these THC-enriched watermelon-flavored candies. Photo Theo R. Welling Meyers’ quest illustrates how legal American cannabis cultivation has grown into a serious industry. Since western Colorado became the first state to legalize medical marijuana (and later, fun weed) at the beginning of this century, dozens of states have followed suit. Most Americans now live in states where buying and consuming a joint or space cookie is legal. Prohibition has become the exception. The sector generated an estimated $25 billion in turnover last year and employed more than 420,000 people. Presidential pardon But while entrepreneurs like Meyers are making money off weed, about 40,000 people are still in prison in the US for trying to do it before it became legal, or for carrying even a small amount. Late last week , President Joe Biden fulfilled an election promise by pardoning some 6,500 people convicted at the federal level for a “simple” marijuana offense. “Today we are beginning to rectify this wrong,” he said. So only a minority of cannabis convicts benefit from Biden’s pardon. Most “simple” cannabis sentences are imposed by lower state courts; federal cases often affect larger merchants. More importantly, Biden called on governors of individual states to follow his example. This could help release approximately 30,000 smaller ex-dealers. He also called for weed to be moved from the heaviest opium list (Schedule I) to a less serious category (Schedule II). Exterior of Mitch Meyers’ weed shop on a hip St. Louis nightlife street. Photo Theo R. Welling Shares of major, publicly traded marijuana growers skyrocketed after Biden’s announcement — another sign of how serious the cannabis market has become. Mitch Meyers finds it wry that she can now conquer it, while others are incarcerated for selling user quantities. “Sometimes it involves insanely high penalties. Forty years in prison for people who only traded a little, without using violence.” The businesswoman, who made a career in senior marketing positions in the beer industry, is trying to partly rectify this injustice herself. Her company donates to the Last Prisoner Project, an organization that helps drug convicts get released, clear their criminal records and reintegrate. Posters in her stores urge customers to donate as well, or to become pen pals with an inmate. In the weed shop, customers are encouraged to become pen pals with an inmate. Photo Theo R. Welling In November referendum Meyers’ stores in Missouri are now only allowed to sell cannabis for medicinal purposes. But this could change quickly: In November, the midwestern state will vote on a legislative citizens’ initiative to allow recreational weed as well. Although Missouri is known as conservative, this proposal is expected to win. Virtually every state that could vote to legalize cannabis turned out in favor. BeLeaf is already preparing for the further expansion of the law, Meyers shows during a tour of her nursery. In addition to the few greenhouses that already suffice with sweet-smelling cannabis plants, much larger cultivation halls are being set up. There are already large tanks ready that will make the green gold with water and nutrients bloom even faster. Only the lamps, the growing trays and the irrigation hoses have yet to be installed, but once the new law comes into effect, she can immediately ramp up production. BeLeaf prepares for a relaxation of marijuana laws in Missouri. This larger fertigation area under construction can provide more plants with water and nutrients. Photo Theo R. Welling For that expansion, Meyers hopes to hire people who were previously incarcerated for cannabis offences. “But they must be able to have their criminal records erased, otherwise I can’t hire them in this sector.” Meyers believes that legalization offers a great opportunity “to help communities escape from oppressive systems.” By this she means that the previous repression of cannabis possession mainly affected Americans of color. For example, according to the Civil Rights Union ACLU, black Americans are four times more likely to be arrested with weed than whites. Other more progressive states have therefore seized upon their own legalization to correct this historical injustice. Missouri’s left-wing neighboring state of Illinois, for example, gives former marijuana convicts priority when applying for a marijuana store license. Meyers: “The pendulum swings the other way, as it always does.” Also read this report about a much more serious drug problem in the US: the fentanyl crisis. One flat, one weekend, seven drug deaths Buying Weed Already Legal in Many US States 36 US states and Washington DC have legalized the sale of cannabis products for medicinal purposes. A doctor’s note is required to purchase. 19 states have also legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. Every adult can visit a cannabis shop here. 5 States (Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota) will vote next month, along with the midterm elections, on proposals to legalize fun weed in addition to medicinal weed. A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 12, 2022