Racialization of weed in the U.S.

Illustration by Colton Starley

We are living in the golden age of marijuana — wax pens, dabs, edibles. We have it all. Weed is often a political issue, which is annoying when we’re so close to having it fully legalized.

While we live in the blissful ignorance of medical cards and weed shops, we forget that weed hasn’t always been so carefree.

On June 18, 1971, the 'War on Drugs' began. This initiative started under the Nixon administration and it was aimed to target the growing heroin epidemic and illegal drug trade in the United States. However, to quote a 2011 Global Commission on Drug Policy report, “The War on Drugs has failed.”

Once Ronald Reagan tightened the reins on the War on Drugs, it devolved into criminalization of marijuana, which lead to disproportionately high rates of Black incarceration.

According to Politico, white people sell drugs at higher rates than Black individuals, yet “Black people are 3.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested for selling drugs and 2.5 times more for drug possession.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “Communities of color are being decimated by outdated drug policies that not only unfairly target them, but contribute to a mass incarceration system that destroys lives forever. Many people who are convicted of drug possession are locked up in prison for disproportionately harsh sentences — and when and if they get out, they often lose the right to vote forever. Share this message to spread the word.”

The War on Drugs grew into somewhat of a race war. It allowed police to target minorities in a time in the U.S. with high racial tensions.

The racism within our country’s law enforcement is no secret. It is embedded within our institutions. Whether the War on Drugs is to fully blame or not, discrepancies in drug charges among races are present. Weed has always been dangerous for specific groups of people, yet largely carefree and fun for white people.

The history of marijuana prohibition is somewhat convoluted and goes back more than a century. Throughout the early 20th century, weed criminalization was enforced based on stereotypes. It goes without saying that people of color were treated as caricatures and dehumanized for much of American history.

When our government holds derogatory connotations of people of color, this prejudice seeps into legislation. The conversation around the War on Drugs usually focuses on Black people, but Latinos are also disproportionately affected.

The rhetoric about drugs in the U.S., even today, is racial.

During his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump infamously said, “[Mexican immigrants are] bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

In January 2018, a video surfaced of Steve Alford, a Kansas representative, saying, “One of the reasons why I hate to say it, was that the African Americans, they were basically users and they basically responded the worst off to those drugs just because of their character makeup, their genetics and that.”

They don’t even try to keep it quiet.

The radicalization of drugs in America is real. We can get our med cards and legal marijuana. But as a white person, I stay conscious that many people don’t have as much freedom as I do, simply because of the color of their skin.

As a white woman, I don’t have to think twice about the weed in my center console. I’m not viewed as a threat if I’m high in public. No one cares that I smoke weed because I am a white woman.

The injustices that permeate our institutions are real and our prison populations are palpable proof. Black people don’t commit more crime, they are simply arrested for things white people get away with.

So, next time you roll up, remember it’s not that simple for some.