The cannabis industry is on the move. Here in Vermont, farms, distributors, lighting tech companies, and branding studios are gearing up for a business boom. Many feel that legalization is imminent. As people position themselves to reap the cannabis windfall, some thinkers are asking about justice. Who will not be on the receiving end of all this expected new wealth? People of color and incarcerated people. Why? Decades of the war on drugs have criminalized and stereotyped them out of eligibility for legal opportunities. This primer will introduce you to people speaking out about the inherent injustices of going fully legal.
1) We begin at the beginning with Harry J. Anslinger and “reefer madness.” Anslinger was America’s first “drug czar” (basically the first person to lead the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which is now the D.E.A) Using the media, he fabricated a dangerous menace out of cannabis and cannabis users so he could wage a justified drug war. He is credited with coining the term marijuana, which is not the Spanish word for cannabis, but is instead a hispanicization of the English slang mary jane. So, yes, the world marijuana has racist roots. Most importantly, Anslinger used the hyperbolized threat of “marijuana” to justify unfair policing of black and brown people, especially Mexican immigrants. He set the backdrop for the late 20th century’s war on drugs. For more on him, check out these two great podcast episodes dedicated to the man and his dark legacy:
The Man Who Declared War on Drugs, On The Media
2) Buzzfeed’s 2016 special feature by Amanda Chicago Lewis, “America’s Whites Only Weed Boom,” is a sprawling in-depth investigation of how states are systematically blocking “thousands of qualified black people from participating” in legalization. Focusing on California, Lewis takes you through policy, key milestones, and embeds with an illegal trafficker she calls The Distributor. The Distributor is black and has been working in cannabis for his entire adult life, always under fear and scrutiny of the law. Lewis follows him to a cannabis industry conference in Los Angeles and watches him take in a room of young white men and women in business wear smiling and talking shop—without a care in the world. This piece is both nerdy and full of pathos. If you want to be able to offer a nuanced argument on behalf of justice in legalization, read this and take notes.
3. Director, writer, activist, and close friend of the late Notorious B.I.G, Dream Hampton has been on top of the coming weed boom for longer than most public intellectuals. A longtime chronicler of hip hop music and black culture, she knows that weed holds a unique position in certain black spaces, and she feels it’s being usurped more and more every day. After watching white entrepreneurs and venture capitalists dominate the cannabis market in states like Colorado, she started speaking out about the injustice of keeping felons out of the fledgling business. She makes the inequality vividly clear in a short video she produced for the New York Times. Jay-Z and Molly Crabapple star in her piece: “The War on Drugs is an Epic Fail.” Hampton has written and spoken elsewhere about race and cannabis. If you are interested in keeping tabs on racial equity in the new cannabis industry, follow her.
Note to readers: If you have ideas on how to transition justly to legalization, please get in touch. Your thoughts could contribute to a future piece! firstname.lastname@example.org