Cannabis, also known as marijuana, has a long and complicated history in the United States. While it is now legal in some form in many states, the history of cannabis prohibition is rooted in racism and discrimination, and the legalization of cannabis in recent years has been heavily influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Reflecting on The Roots of Cannabis Prohibition in the United States and the Ongoing Fight for Equity in the Cannabis Industry – by Maxwell Alexander, MA, BFA, EIC, Hudson Valley Style Magazine
The history of cannabis prohibition in the United States can be traced back to the early 20th century, when anti-immigrant sentiment was high and the country was experiencing a wave of drug scares. In 1910, the Mexican Revolution sparked a wave of Mexican immigrants coming to the United States, many of whom used cannabis recreationally. This led to fears among white Americans that cannabis was a dangerous drug that would lead to violence and moral decay.
At the same time, African Americans were migrating northward in large numbers, bringing with them jazz music and a culture that was perceived as threatening to white Americans. Cannabis became associated with this new culture, and racial stereotypes of African Americans as lazy and drug-addicted began to emerge.
In the 1930s, a propaganda campaign led by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) and its commissioner, Harry Anslinger, fueled further hysteria about cannabis. The FBN disseminated racist and misleading information about the drug, claiming that it caused insanity and violence, and that it was primarily used by African Americans and Mexicans.
This propaganda campaign was successful in convincing lawmakers to criminalize cannabis at the federal level. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively made cannabis illegal, and it was added to the list of Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act in 1970.
The criminalization of cannabis had a devastating impact on communities of color in the United States. African Americans and Latinos were disproportionately targeted and arrested for drug offenses, despite using drugs at similar rates to white Americans. This led to the mass incarceration of people of color, perpetuating racial inequality in the United States.
In recent years, there has been a growing movement to legalize cannabis, led in part by the Black Lives Matter movement. As awareness of the racist origins of cannabis prohibition has grown, many activists have argued that legalization is necessary to address the harms that have been done to communities of color.
Legalization efforts have been successful in many states, with cannabis now legal for recreational use in 15 states and the District of Columbia, and for medical use in many others. However, the impact of legalization on communities of color has been mixed.
On one hand, legalization has created new economic opportunities and jobs, particularly in the cannabis industry. However, there are concerns that legalization has not done enough to address the harms of the war on drugs, particularly for those who have been disproportionately impacted.
For example, in many states, individuals with prior drug convictions are still barred from working in the legal cannabis industry, which can perpetuate the cycle of poverty and inequality. There are also concerns that the high cost of entry into the legal cannabis industry has made it difficult for people of color to compete with established businesses.
In response to these concerns, some states have implemented equity programs designed to address the harms of the war on drugs and ensure that communities of color benefit from the legalization of cannabis. These programs provide funding and resources to help people with prior drug convictions start their own cannabis businesses, and prioritize licensing for individuals from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
In conclusion, the history of cannabis prohibition in the United States is deeply rooted in racism and discrimination, and the legalization of cannabis in recent years has been heavily influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement. While legalization has created new economic opportunities, it is important to continue to work towards equity and justice for communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. This requires not just the legalization of cannabis, but also the implementation of policies and programs that address the harms of the war on drugs and promote equity in the cannabis industry.
One promising approach is to expunge prior drug convictions, which can help individuals affected by the war on drugs to access housing, employment, and other opportunities. Some states have also established restorative justice programs that provide counseling, education, and other support services to individuals who have been impacted by the war on drugs.
Another key strategy is to ensure that individuals from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs have access to the legal cannabis industry. This can be done through equity programs that provide funding, technical assistance, and other resources to help these individuals start their own businesses.
In addition, it is important to address the barriers to entry that exist in the legal cannabis industry. These barriers, which include high licensing fees and complex regulations, can make it difficult for small businesses and individuals from marginalized communities to compete with established players in the industry. Addressing these barriers will require a concerted effort from policymakers, industry leaders, and other stakeholders.
Finally, it is important to continue to raise awareness about the racist history of cannabis prohibition and the ongoing harms of the war on drugs. By doing so, we can build support for policies and programs that promote equity and justice in the cannabis industry, and ensure that all communities have the opportunity to benefit from the legalization of cannabis.
In conclusion, the legalization of cannabis in the United States represents an important step towards ending the racist and discriminatory policies of the past. However, it is important to continue to work towards equity and justice for communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. This will require a sustained effort from policymakers, industry leaders, and other stakeholders to address the harms of the past and promote a more just and equitable future.