The Need-to-Know Racial History of Cannabis

If you think cannabis and racism don’t have any correlation to each other, it’s time to wake up Greenies! I want to hit a more serious note with this one and put aside my usual baking talk. This is something I’m passionate about and I think it’s good for people to know! 

Two major conversations are currently taking place in our country: racial injustice and the legalization/acceptance of cannabis. Though it may seem like these are two completely unrelated things, they are actually very linked. A quick look back at the history between the two says it all. 

Understanding the bigger picture can help us all to ‘right’ many wrongs, and steer future business in a more fair, balanced direction for all of us. 

The Start of Cannabis in the US

So, let’s take it back to the beginning of cannabis in the US so we can start to paint a picture:

  • In the 1800s, there were no federal restrictions on the sale or possession of cannabis in the US
  • In the early 1900s, Mexican immigrants came to the US, fleeing their country due to political unrest, and they brought with them recreational cannabis use—and it took off. 
  • In the 1920s, Mexican immigrants were negatively associated with cannabis as anti-drug campaigners described terrible crimes associated with the people who used it. 
  • In 1936, Reefer Madness underscored the association with weed (or “demon weed”) and Mexican immigrants, black Americans, prostitutes, and the lower class.
  • In 1937, cannabis sales started being taxed
  • In 1938, fear-mongering instigator Harry Anslinger enacted the Marihuana Tax Act
  • In 1952, the Boggs Act was passed which made sentencing for drug convictions mandatory (possession could land you in prison and leave you with a huge ass fine)
  • In 1960-1970, the era of hippies and flower power changed the perception of weed with a counterculture movement weed-smoking took on a new perception through the counterculture movement 
  • In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act was passed which made cannabis a schedule I drug (in the same category as heroin and LSD)

And to this very day, it’s still considered a schedule I drug! Crazy. 

The Misconceptions Created Around Cannabis

It wasn’t long after the introduction of cannabis to the US that propaganda surrounding it started to come out. This led to legislation that created more misconceptions around cannabis use. 

The first major piece of misleading propaganda was a film called Reefer Madness. It portrayed young teenagers getting high for the first time and committing murder, attempting rape, and hallucinating. A little extra, right? Most of the media during this time showcased weed as a gateway drug to the hard stuff, like heroin and morphine.

Though Mexican immigrants were cast in a negative light nearly from the beginning, it wasn’t until Reefer Madness hit the big screen and the Marihuana Tax Act was passed by Harry Anslinger that misconceptions really centered around race. 

In Anslinger’s position of power, he sold the idea of marijuana as a violence-inducing drug. He also connected it to black and Hispanic people by saying cannabis made Black people forget their place in society or jazz music was evilly crafted by high people. Say what…

The sad part is that it really showed in our society. One year after the act was passed, black people were three times more likely to be arrested for violating narcotics laws than white people. Mexicans also were nine times more likely to be arrested for the same charge. This is despite the use of cannabis is nearly equal among whites, blacks, and Hispanics. 

The Precedent Was Set

From the very beginning, this narrative was put into place—and it targeted black and brown people. Politicians used marijuana as a way to divide everyone by

“Painting the drug as a scourge from south of the border to a ‘jazz drug’ to the corruptive intoxicant of choice for beatniks and hippies, marijuana as a drug and the laws that sought to control it played on some of America’s worst tendencies around race, ethnicity, civil disobedience, and otherness” 

The government straight up described cannabis as a drug for the inner city and Blacks. They also lied about it leading to murder, rape, and insanity. And don’t forget, cannabis usage among whites and non-whites were pretty much the same! 

Which is crazy considering still to this day, black Americans are arrested for cannabis charges nearly 4:1, compared to whites. In the ’60s though, more of the white community got involved in the Make Peace Not War era, which put marijuana out there in a positive light. But, it wasn’t enough to stop Nixon’s Controlled Substance Act. This thing essentially snowballed arrests for cannabis, keeping the black and brown communities incarcerated even longer! 

Marijuana’s Controlled Substance Categorization

With the passing of the Controlled Substance Act, weed became a schedule I drug. Still blows my mind to this day! You know what else is considered a schedule I drug? Let me name a few for you, Greenies:

  • Heroin
  • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
  • 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy)
  • Methaqualone
  • Peyote

How are you going to tell me that cannabis belongs up there with all of those drugs? Schedule I drugs are legit considered ‘drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse’. Not gonna lie too, it’s interesting to me that tobacco and alcohol aren’t listed as any type of drug. 

Where We Are Now

When we look at where we are now, we have definitely come a long way. States are now taking regulation into their own hands and pushing to decriminalize it. Basically, no penalty for being in possession of it–a huge step towards protecting the brown and black community against the racist nature of cannabis policy. 

Even states like New York have been advocating to decriminalize it federally! Their Senator totally understands the role that race has played all this time. The new bill he’s proposing is purposely trying to make recompense to poor and colored communities for years of damage done by super restrictive federal drug policy. 

The best part is that it calls for the immediate expunging of nonviolent, marijuana-related arrests and convictions from federal records. That’s what I’m talkin’ bout. 

The Lasting Effects

As I’m sure you’re well aware, there’s also been a huge push for police reform. Which is important for educational purposes when it comes to the role cannabis plays in society now. 

Changing policies and this push for police reform are helping to not only put cannabis in a category to help people but also to begin creating racial equality within this industry that’s finally starting to take hold in the right way. 

Years of prosecutions of primarily black and brown people have just had a huge impact on communities all over! While expungement is definitely a way to start turning those wrongs into rights,: 

“It still doesn’t make up for the years and decades of fewer educational, employment, and other related opportunities as a result of that drug arrest. Nor does record expungement assist the people who have been negatively affected by a family member’s drug arrest and/or incarceration.”

What WE Can Do

While we can’t change how cannabis had such a racially driven component to it in the past, we can take note of the history and do better moving forward. 

  • We can support movements that focus on retraining and reforming police that address existing and ongoing racial disparities
  • We can all do our part to spread awareness
  • We can support black and brown owned businesses 
  • We can use cannabis responsibly and make an effort to educate each other 

Cannabis is a soul-hugging medicine that can bring us together, no matter the color of our skin. It should be something to come together over and share the love in. And at The Green Baker, that’s exactly what I aim to do! 

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