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Black History Month: The History of Cannabis and Black People in America

As cannabis becomes legalized state by state and as hemp products containing CBD become federally legal in 2018, most Americans do not realize that the drug war continues. It continues to devastate our communities, particularly minorities.”- Plain Jane CTO, Evan Marshall

The above is absolutely true and there are statistics that support it, like the ones in a piece published on the Plain Jane blog titled: Visualizing The Ongoing Drug War. There, you’ll find that a black person is almost 4 times more likely to be arrested for a drug related offense than a white person. In this piece, we are going to dive in further about history, and the current state between cannabis and black people in America.

The Beginning- Cannabis Before Prohibition

To get to the beginning, we have to travel back to ancient times. On the continents of Asia, Africa, and India to name a few, cannabis was medicine and healers/doctors incorporated cannabis into their therapeutic treatments/regimens. Here in the United States, we were introduced to cannabis in the 19th century. Just after the Mexican revolution, the United States saw an increase of Mexican immigration and Cannabis came with, as medicine for relaxation. 

How the War on Cannabis Began- Prohibition

In 1937, the government decided to wreck our health and freedom with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 (now properly spelled Marijuana Tax Act of 1937); cannabis became taxable. Then, in 1970, cannabis was prohibited with the Controlled Substance Act- also referred to as CSA. 

And then, the stigma. Drug Policy Org says that:

The media began to play on the fears that the public had about these new citizens by falsely spreading claims about the “disruptive Mexicans” with their dangerous native behaviors including marihuana use. The rest of the nation did not know that this “marihuana” was a plant they already had in their medicine cabinets.”

In 1970, the United States government declared marijuana more dangerous than cocaine, meth, oxycodone, and fentanyl. The government says that schedule I drugs have the highest potential for abuse and the potential to create psychological and/or physical dependence. Marijuana is listed as a schedule I. Cocaine, meth, oxycodone, and fentanyl are listed on schedule II.

The Ongoing War on Cannabis/Marijuana- Prohibition and Legalization

The United States of America are only united because the majority connect to each other. Outside of that- hardly united. We don’t have clear legalization, we have state by state liberties. In the United States, only 6 states prohibit marijuana, but in all, people can still be arrested. Even in legal and decriminalized states, people are still arrested for cannabis/marijuana related offenses. 

Even where legal for recreational/adult purchase and consumption, people are in jail, they remain there, while the world outside has access and liberties.. Legalization of cannabis in the United States has been ongoing since the 90’s, when California became the first to legalize cannabis for medicine. 

The ACLU (Americans Civil Liberties Union) shares the following statistics (these are just a few- there are so many):

  • In 2010, 52% of the country's arrests were related to cannabis/marijuana.
  • Nationwide, the arrest data revealed significant racial bias; despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.
  • In every single state, Black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some states, Black people were up to six, eight, or almost ten times more likely to be arrested. 
  • In 31 states, racial disparities were actually larger in 2018 than they were in 2010.
  • According to a 2020 analysis by The Washington Post, between 2015 and 2019, there were 3,631 marijuana arrests in the District of Columbia. 89% percent of those arrested were Black, even as they make up only 45% of the city’s population.
  • A 2020 analysis of marijuana-related citations and arrests in Albany, New York between 2019 and 2020 reported, 97% of the time, those arrested or ticketed were Black.
Seun Adedeji

Black People in Cannabis Making History

Despite the war on black people in this country, there are some black people in cannabis that beat the odds, creating black history:

  • 1st Lady of the West Coast- the first black woman to own a line of marijuana strains.
  • Seun Adedeji- the youngest black man to own a cannabis dispensary.
  • Wanda James- the first black woman/person to own a cannabis dispensary.
  • Dwayne Hirsch- the owner of the first hemp farm in Georgia.
  • Tyrone Russell- Partner/President of the Cleveland School of Cannabis

These are just a few examples and still much work to do. Cannabis and black people in America have a history that connects to each other. It would be amazing to report cannabis/marijuana related arrests as a thing of the past- ancient American History- but we are not quite there. 

Like Evan stated:

We've come a long way but we're not nearly there yet. We haven't even begun to talk about how taxes from the Cannabis and Hemp Flower industries are being used to fund police. There's so much left to do. We're not at the finish line yet.

About Veronica Castillo

Veronica Castillo is a writer from Miami, with a pre-Cannabis background in insurance and human resources. She advocates, writes about, and educates on the topic of cannabis and hemp for overall life. Currently, she is a resident of the road exploring all thing’s cannabis and hemp in the United States, with plans to travel abroad in exploration of cannabis and hemp culture in other countries.


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