Demand for marijuana is exceeding most naysayers’ expectations, as studies and popular opinion are growing in favor of legalizing this budding resource. No matter the decade, true smokers have never changed their position on how important cannabis, hemp, and its related uses have been to their existence. Yet, haters are gon’ hate.
Even though the cannabis industry is inching toward an explosive economic boon where even former detractors (John Boehner) are becoming huge investors, the real travesty in all of this future Fortune 500 talk are those still locked down for marijuana-related charges. Take Louisiana, for example, where the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) describes the disproportionate amount of black people arrested for marijuana possession “unconstitutional and counterproductive.” In Baton Rouge, a black person is six times as likely as a white person to be arrested for marijuana possession.
The significant racial bias in marijuana arrests reveals a consistent trend that likely keeps most aspiring Nino Brown’s awake at night.
We read stories all the time about this racial discrepancy in not just the incarceration rates for marijuana possession, but the lack of inclusion in a growing industry that is poised to bring in a reported $3.1 billion worth of revenue in New York alone. It’s a brand new revenue stream for those who have never had to maneuver the “War on Drugs” and still successfully reap the benefits of creating a cannabis industry. In fact, 2019 marks the 400th year where the positive possibilities for cannabis were discarded in favor of the system we have today.
According to History.com, a law passed by the Virginia Assembly in 1619 required every farmer to grow hemp and it was allowed to be exchanged as legal tender in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland. Imagine what would have happened if the Emancipation Proclamation had enabled black-and-brown people to farm their own land under that law? Instead, we know how the rest of that story actually went: slavery, school-to-prison pipeline, and state-sanctioned murders. Where did it all go so left with the criminalization of cannabis and why have places around the world never succumbed to the allure? The answer is as crazy back then as it is today.
In the 1930s, prohibition had gripped the nation and plenty of straight-laced bureaucrats were looking to make another target out of something. Marijuana, which, at the time, was mostly being consumed in the Mexican and black communities, was a prime-and-ready mark and the government wasted no time in painting them and the drug as threats to the larger community. Twenty-nine states had outlawed marijuana by 1931, and by the time 1937 rolled around, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed, essentially making the plant illegal in the country. Compare this to Amsterdam, which was ahead of the curve when they evolved the Opium Act of 1912 to include cannabis in 1976. Many of the regulations and controls on cannabis distribution in America were based on fines and economic penalties placed-and-enforced by the police. The Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act of 1925 - 1932 was one of the first pieces of legislation that explicitly gave police the power to enforce drug laws, as well as standardizing many aspects of cannabis prohibition.
Reaganomics, alone, heavily targeted communities of color in ways that increased the stigma and fear around cannabis due to biased policing and fallacies.
Racism is by no means solved in Amsterdam (Black Pete can attest to that) but you’re not seeing wide swaths of black-and-brown people languishing in cells because of the entrepreneurial advantages that cannabis creates, do you? Everyone who visits Amsterdam raves about the “coffeeshops” and how you can consume cannabis for your own personal use there—but a place like African Blackstar Coffeeshop, which is one of the few black-owned licensed dispensaries in Amsterdam, would be considered “trap house deluxe” by American standards. Importing and exporting of any classified drug in Amsterdam is a serious offense with penalties running up to four years for large quantities of cannabis. In 2006 there were 20,769 drug crimes registered by public prosecutors with a rate of imprisonment about the same as in Sweden, which has a zero tolerance policy for drug crimes. In terms of crime and punishment related to cannabis, things Stateside have always been drastically different.
“Reaganomics, alone, heavily targeted communities of color in ways that increased the stigma and fear around the plant due to biased policing and fallacies that were spread upon the masses since the late 1930s,” says Mary Pryor, co-creator of Cannaclusive, a marijuana-centric photography and financial education firm. “That moment from there was in response to migrant movement of Mexicans and the increased wealth of blacks from the hemp industry. Cannabis is listed as a Schedule 1 drug, so prosecution allows for this to have a high rate of policing and sentencing in the U.S.”
The criminalization of cannabis has severely impacted black-and-brown families and their progress in this country thanks to the United States’ history of round-’em-up tactics. As described in a recent report by the ACLU, marijuana arrests now account for “over half of all drug arrests in the United States.” The significant racial bias in marijuana arrests reveals a consistent trend that likely keeps most aspiring Nino Brown’s awake at night: blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.
“The modern day prison system is made of 22-percent of people who are locked up due to drug charges,” Pryor explains. “We should all know by now that regulation of freedoms and money are directly tied together as a way to criminalize black-and-brown bodies. Sadly, propaganda has kept a lot of cannabis research and understanding in the shadows and out of reach in the U.S. Most of the studies currently focused on the plant come out of Israel, South America, and Europe.”
While politicians now routinely admit to having smoked marijuana with the likes of Snoop Dogg and DMX, public opinion continues to shift dramatically, as you now see items like CBD oils and teas advertised at your local store and cafe. Additionally, many are in favor of laws that expand health-based approaches while reducing the role of criminalization in drug policy. Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, Washington state, and Washington, D.C. have already legalized marijuana for adults, and places such as Michigan, New Jersey, and New York are considering adding to the momentum with legalization bills of their own.
Despite challenges from both sides of the aisle, the pattern of conflicting views both for and against cannabis prohibition seem to be tipping in favor of legalization. More and more support and awareness is attached to research that reveals an array of medical benefits. As cannabis is gaining traction as the new normal, movement towards complete legalization is slowly gaining more Congressional support, but until then, the fight continues to appeal for those caught in the crosshairs of this intensive battle.