Cannabis History & Racism: Nixon’s War on Drugs
By Elise McRoberts
for ECO Cannabis
While people of all races and socioeconomic circumstances have used drugs for centuries, the American drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups, significantly disproportionately targeting people and communities of color.
FACT: The War on Drugs isn’t just a failure, it’s half a century of government funded blatant, targeted racism.
According to the ACLU, even though whites outnumber blacks five to one and both groups use and sell drugs at similar rates, African-Americans comprise: 35% of those arrested for drug possession; 55% of those convicted for drug possession; and 74% of those imprisoned for drug possession.
Conveniently kept quiet for decades, these statistics are finally gaining visibility and inspiring activism, thanks to the light of media attention around today’s green rush. And rightfully so. Cannabis is normalizing. You can tell by the number of weed stores that have late night delivery and run educational events around CBD and THC around Oakland and in the East Bay Area. As consumption widens, we must discuss privilege, reparations, expungement of records and creating an equitable industry. The silver lining these sad truths provide is the inspiration for groups like Supernova Women, The Hood Incubator, and OCEP, as well as the activism lead movements and initiatives such as Oakland’s Equity Program. Some of the region’s top medical and recreational marijuana clinics have yet to fully incorporate these social justice initiatives.
Oakland enacted California’s first-of-its-kind cannabis equity assistance program in the Spring of 2017. Key elements of the program were the promise of no-interest loans for equity-qualified start-ups and opportunity to rent free space, for a minimum of three years.
Though the program has been touted for being one of the first in the country to even attempt to repair damage that befell minority communities, it is still in its early days and by no means, a success story. A recent write up in SF Chronicle is already hinting at the program’s failure, reporting that “critics say it is not living up to its promise.”
So what can you do?
In addition to supporting the groups mentioned above, know where your money is going when you buy your cannabis. Ask your retailer or delivery service about the flower brands, or better yet, the cultivators who grow the weed in the jar you might take home. Ask your local 420 club with online deals why they don’t carry more equity brands. Green Peakz and New Life are two examples of Oakland grown, licensed brands of the equity program, available now at head and smoke shops in Alameda, Lafayette and Emeryville, CA.
Want to dive deeper on the War on Drugs?
This video from hip hop legend Shawn “Jay Z” Carter and acclaimed artist Molly Crabapple, depicts the drug war’s devastating impact on the Black community from decades of biased law enforcement.
Released in 2016, thanks to Drug Policy Alliance, it feels shockingly fresh and extremely relevant today, reminding us that we have so much more work to do.