Cannabis & Social Inequality

Cannabis Sativa, better known by many as marijuana or hemp is a plant that has been utilized by human beings for close to 10,000 years. One of the first spun fibers found in the archeological record was that of hemp. Humans have been using it to make rope, clothing, food, and other useful items since antiquity. In more recent years hemp has been used to make over 30,000 types of products from food and cosmetics to paper and building materials. The word hemp often refers to the variety of plants used to make useful products and is also commonly referred to as industrial hemp. However, there is a variety of cannabis that has gained notoriety throughout the world and we often call this marijuana.  Marijuana is high in a psychoactive cannabinoid called THC and it leads to a euphoric effect known as “high.” In the early 1900s, many groups sought to have this product banned under national law due to its “sowing destruction in the youth of America.” In 1937 these groups and ill-informed individuals got their wish with the Marihuana Tax Act effectively making the sale of pot illegal without proper taxes paid. This is believed by many to be an effort to reduce the hemp industry’s size and allow other competing industries with more lobbyist support in Washington to take their place.

How Has Cannabis Been Stigmatized?

Since the 1930’s users of marijuana have been viewed as degenerates and the worst of society. “Reefer Madness” a film from 1936 was made as a shocking film to scare parents and children alike as to the dangers of smoking pot.  It revolves around a group of high school kids being forced to use it by pushers which then leads to a series of catastrophic events such as a hit and run accident, rape, murder, suicide, hallucinations, and descent into madness due to marijuana usage. Almost 100 years later we all can recognize this as pure nonsense and just utter baloney, but people back then were easily swayed. This was only the beginning of stigmatization as in the 1970s marijuana was yet again the target of the government. In 1970 with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act it was officially outlawed for any use including medical. What followed was a fear campaign used to smear the image of hippies and blacks alike. President Nixon quite literally started the war on drugs in 1971 and his aide John Ehrlichman infamously confessed in 1999, “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the [Vietnam] war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and the blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”

How Have Black and Other POC Been Stigmatized?

There you have it. The metaphorical nail in the coffin with the words of a former presidential aide telling it like it was. From this anecdote, it is clear that protesters of the war and members of the black community were specifically targeted using the war on drugs as a guise. This stigmatization and systemic inequality continue until today. 625,000 people are still arrested annually for a plant that has been proven to be an effective medicine. To make matters worse a black person is four times more likely to get in trouble for possession of marijuana than a white person. Furthermore, many are likely to get shot and killed by the police due to a lack of accountability and over the militarization of what should be public servants. On top of everything else, a person of color is more likely to face penalization once caught up in the legal system. It has been shown that people of color are oftentimes incarcerated at higher rates, and made to pay heftier fines. Many times, a white person caught up in the same situation, is let go or hit with a minuscule fine in comparison.

The Irony In The Cannabis Industry

People of color are regularly under-represented by many industries in the US, and control a minuscule portion of the sector. However, this is not the case when examining the cannabis industry. Many people believe that it is dominated by white business owners, but in a recent survey conducted by Marijuana Business Daily, it was found that people of color hold a larger percentage of the industry than in most other industries around the US with a 19% share of the marijuana industry. To many, the results were considered surprising with widely held perceptions that POC have a minimal presence within the weed sector. This is an important development for many communities suffering from the war on drugs and shows that loosening laws on marijuana can be a great thing for the people and the economy. Be sure to get out there and support your local minority owned dispensary or other cannabis business. These businesses must survive to help repair our communities to what they once were before this awful war on drugs.

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