By Megan Kirk
With Michigan’s vote to legalize cannabis in 2019, some saw it as the state’s first step in the decriminalization of its use, distribution and consumption. Still, outdated views on the drug continue to perpetuate stigmas. As many in the cannabis field work to dispel misconceptions surrounding cannabis, there still exists a legal uphill battle on the national, state and local levels.
The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 opened the doors to the criminalization of cannabis. The federal law imposed a tax on the sale, possession or distribution of hemp. At the hands of Harry Aslinger, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner and his anti-marijuana rhetoric, a hazy cloud bloomed over marijuana leaving many to suffer legal consequences.
“After prohibition, they were no longer attacking bootleggers and alcohol, they needed a new drug, a new thing to criminalize. They took marijuana and made that the next thing to start criminalizing and literally, some of the propaganda he used in that time was like ‘reefer makes Black men think they’re as good as white men,” said Jessica Jackson, co-founder of Copper House Detroit, a bud and breakfast and co-founder and COO of Loud Social, a social media marketing agency for cannabis companies. “They literally used racist propaganda to demonize this plant because it was associated with our community.”
Though cannabis is used by many regardless of race, economic standing and educational background, many marijuana cases involve the imprisonment of members of the Black and Brown communities, particularly males. Across the country, Black individuals are four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis offenses, despite similar rates of consumption when compared to that of white communities.
“I know in 2018 there were like 630,000 arrests from cannabis and that was just the arrest. There were three million stops from cannabis, but from our color,” said Brittany Wyche, owner of The Weed Bar and Plant Life CBD.
The 1970s War on Drugs was another key step in the criminalization of marijuana. The government-led initiative worked to crack down on users and distributors of illicit drugs, including cannabis. Categorized as a Schedule 1 drug under the Control Substances Act, marijuana was associated with heroin, LSD and ecstasy. Schedule 1 drugs are considered the most dangerous and highly addictive. Yet the presumed war on drugs seemed to launch another attack on Black and Brown communities across the country.