Over the last couple of years, the cannabis industry and activists have made incredible progress toward legalizing cannabis. Today, eight states have legalized recreational weed use and twelve states have medical marijuana laws, as well as decriminalization laws. It is expected that national marijuana legalization is on the horizon and this is largely thanks to the incredible effort made to change the public’s opinion about cannabis culture. Cannabis consumers are no longer subjected to the same stereotypes that they were twenty years ago and we’ve seen the media play a strong role in altering public opinion.
A bit of history
It is important for people who are passionate about this movement and have benefited from legalization to understand that for many Americans, the criminalization of cannabis has played a very different role in their lives.
Racism has played a role in cannabis prohibition since the early 20th century when many Mexicans immigrated to America after the Mexican Revolution in 1910 and revitalized recreational use within American culture.
This soon led many Americans to associate their prejudice of Spanish-speaking people with marijuana, which led to the spread of the “Marijuana Menace” propaganda.
By the 1930s, the citizens, as well as the government, began to attribute marijuana with “racially inferior” communities that boded a high crime rate, which led to the creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
This agency continued to promote what we refer to today as fake news about the dangerous effects of marijuana usage and by the 1950s, mandatory minimum jail sentences were put in place for the possession of marijuana.
This may surprise you
According to the ACLU, mandatory minimum sentences are set up for people of color to fail, because while black and white Americans consume cannabis at the same rate, black Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for possession.
And in places like DC and Illinois which have some of the largest black communities in the country – black Americans are up to 8.5 times more likely to be arrested for having weed.
That’s not all, the DPA reports that while white Americans deal marijuana at the same rate as black or latinx Americans, black and latinx Americans make up 62% of state prison drug offenses.
But here’s where it really gets messed up. In 2014, the ACLU published a study that found that black Americans serve on average the same prison sentencing for nonviolent drug offenses as whites do for violent offenses.
Our prison system has been destroyed by mass incarceration and institutionalized racism that has been perpetuated for decades by negative stigmas surrounding people of color and drugs – and it’s time that everyone starts standing up for those who do not have the privilege to advocate for their rights.
We need a revolution
It’s time that activists start advocating for cannabis legalization as it pertains to all Americans, not just those who benefit from privilege. We need to realize that the narrative of cannabis prohibition in America is much deeper and darker than what we may have imagined it to be.
We need empowered allies to bring justice to those whose lives have been ruined by the War on Drugs, Stop and Frisk, and private prison systems.
As we enter into the open frontier that is recreational cannabis usage, we change the way that marijuana prohibition continues to affect people of color in this country.