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Free the Guys: The War On Drugs Was Never About Drugs

Black man at protest with sign that reads, "war on drugs is a war on us."

“My uncle came home from prison for the same shit ya’ll trying to turn into a business.”

I see white people. I see them as culture vultures inside out and outside in. There aren’t too many non-white people — with at least enough consciousness to swear by — that’ll see differently. Black culture throughout the African Diaspora served as a direct line to our ancestors after West African countries were burglarized and rummaged through by the mayo militia. Human beings were herd like cattle to be shipped and distributed across the planet like merchandise. Whole human beings who bore nothing but a soul — some broken, some beaten, some killed, some prevailed — but there was no space for anything but a soul. That’s all that was sustainable in route to colonialism. Our humanity? Left behind.

Spirituality? Replaced.
Blackness? Marginalized.
Identity? Minimized.
Bodies? Dehumanized.
Hair? Stigmatized.
Anger? Marketed.

I see white people everywhere people of color should be; everywhere Black people should be. But cannabis, though? The very substance that was intentionally made illegal to imprison Black and Brown people? Now cannabis is a business trend amongst #6F people from grade school to Lamaze classes to grandma’s dab rig. Thousands of families were — and are still being — destroyed due to the impact of discriminatory law enforcement. It’s America’s legacy to equate Black and Brown people to felons and moral degenerates. This stroked Nixon’s hard-on for making drugs a public enemy.

He made his intentions clear in the 1970 State of the Union address, “We must declare and win the war against the criminal elements, which increasingly threaten our cities, our homes, and our lives.” No need to name said threat or identify these so-called “criminal elements.” America’s age-old, codependent relationship with anti-blackness did that for him. Nixon’s adviser confirmed this in a 1994 interview:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that had two enemies: the anti-war left and black people. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”

Let that marinate.

“Instead of the war on poverty, they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.”


In 2018 – TWO THOUSAND EIGHTEEN, Y’ALL – Kansas State Representative, Steve Alford, openly expressed that black people are more affected by marijuana because of “their character makeup and genetics.” This was said to convince a room of 60 people – none of whom were black by the way – that drugs should remain unlawful. 

Study after study and report after report is consistently regurgitated and gifted to the public proving that there are blatant disparities. Black people are much more likely to be sent to jail for drug possession, although white people are just as, if not more, likely to possess drugs. If this is a secret, then the U.S. of A. can’t hold water. And white supremacist, closeted or otherwise, either lack critical thinking skills or just don’t care. After seeing the number of pale jaws dropping to the floor in shock of learning Nixon’s motives, I’m not sure which is it.

This imbalanced rhetoric is shared throughout a society of people who refuse to see anyone darker than a brown paper bag as wholly human. Yet, their children are able to express themselves freely. They are granted the opportunity to be mischievous, rambunctious darlings even when caught with drugs. Their futures remain as unbothered as their attitudes while we are hauled off to county jails and slapped with mandatory minimums for having nickel bags.

As a matter of fact, of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% was for simple possession. In 2010, there was one marijuana arrest every 37 seconds causing states to spend a combined $3.6 billion just to enforce marijuana possession laws. And arrest records nationwide revealed significant racial bias despite white usage rates being higher. Black people are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana. This, in turn, disqualifies those with drug convictions from the job market, more specifically, the legal cannabis market.

White people own and operate 81% of legal marijuana businesses, positioning themselves as the face of marijuana legalization and culture. These are your hipsters, the vessels of gentrification happening in POC neighborhoods. Except, that quaint restaurant with rustic feels, 90s rap, and a waiter who fetishizes melanin is a dispensary. People of color are carrying the heaviest load of law enforcement upon their backs while white people are cashing checks as they successfully apply the same cannabis culture once frowned upon to their brand and marketing messages.

To add insult to injury, the regulatory systems in this country have policies that make it difficult or impossible for people without liquid assets or a squeaky clean criminal record to become licensed operators. And in most states, you’ll need a license plus a permit (costing upwards of $150,000 in liquid assets) to open a cannabis business.

This isn’t easily accessible to many us who have been marginalized and/or fed into a system that ensures their failure. If it isn’t a criminal record (since some states are looking into expunging nonviolent marijuana convictions), then it’s a lack of equity in an industry already becoming saturated with white-own businesses. Those who continue to suffer the consequences of racialized marijuana prohibition are denied opportunities. Opportunities that are given to a much more prepared group — wealthy, white entrepreneurs — who’ll likely bulldoze underprivileged and underrepresented people in order to build.

With that being said, it’s necessary to support people of color and Black people within the cannabis industry especially if you consider yourself an ally. Become an advocate. Stay up to date on new bills and laws passed. Revolt with and for those negatively impacted by the war on marijuana. Reclaim time stolen. Donate to organizations that support the reform of marijuana laws. Don’t let your support of black-owned businesses die at legalities — these laws are anti-black.

Show love to underground growers and dealers. Buy those 3.5grams of loud from your homie up the block. Keep pushing to break stigmas and keep pushing to free the niggas.

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