It is imperative that the Barbadian society understand that the prohibition of cannabis was a racist act, constructed to criminalize and subjugate African descended people in America, and by extension the rest of the world.
Why is it important that Barbadians know this? Knowledge of the racist history of cannabis’ illegal status today, aids the society in making an informed decision as it relates to their support of Cannabis Barbados, the African Heritage Foundation, the Rastafari community, and many others, as they stand with Paul Rock (Ras Simba/Masimba) in his constitutional motion that charges the Barbadian government with human and constitutional rights violations pertaining to cannabis prohibition.
As the reasoning around Masimba’s legal case against the Barbadian government centers on policing, criminal and racial justice, and social equity, the topic of the War on Drugs must play a central part. For decades, the War on Drugs has been a tool to target Black and Brown Americans, and people of the world, changing life trajectories in those communities for millions of people. The protests and policy debates internationally seek to change the outcomes processes, practices, and institutions that produce those results. One significant institution contributing to racial inequity is drug policy.
The book Marijuana: A Short History explores the explicitly racist roots of cannabis policy in the United States as well as the broader War on Drugs internationally. It highlights how politicians across the political divide spent much of the 20th century using cannabis as a means of dividing America. By painting cannabis as a scourge from south of the border to a “jazz drug”, to the corruptive intoxicant of choice for beatniks ( young people in the 1950s and early 1960s belonging to a subculture associated with the beat generation ) and hippies, the plant was located as a drug and the laws that sought to control it played on some of America’s worst tendencies around race, ethnicity, civil disobedience, and otherness.
The previously mentioned book discusses how the U.S. government officials first painted cannabis as an insidious substance flowing across the border like immigrants from Mexico. Next, the government described cannabis as a drug for the inner city and for Blacks, while also lying about it, leading to murder, rape, and insanity. Next, political opponents of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan designed and enforced laws to target a variety of groups across America
All along, one consistent target for the nation’s cannabis laws were communities of color. Despite cannabis usage rates between whites and non-whites being similar, Black Americans are arrested for cannabis offenses at a rate of nearly 4:1, compared to whites. And in a nation with nearly 700,000 cannabis-related arrests each year, these policies affect an enormous number of Americans. We can easily see the parallel to the situation in Barbados where cannabis arrests of African descended Barbadians are consistent and published in national newspapers daily, similar arrests of European descended (White) people, while very very few, are almost never reported by the media. Added to this, the treatment of people within the justice system related to cannabis ( and other criminal offences), is very racially charged /biased, and it is clearly visible when examining these two ethnic groupings.
Over the past several years, states and localities have passed legalization and decriminalization reforms in an effort to rein in such arrest numbers. In states that have legalized, arrests have fallen dramatically; although in many such places, racial disparities in arrests have changed little. Legalization or decriminalization are steps in the right direction, but as Marijuana: A Short History points out, such policies only help fix the present and future. Most of those reforms do little to fix the past.
In an effort to fix the harms of the drug war, some states, via their legalization laws and others through subsequent legislative changes, have used record expungement for low-level cannabis offenses in an effort to right those wrongs. However, the impact of the broader War on Drugs is more lasting and institutionalized than record expungement can overcome. (Although the book discusses Illinois’ newest cannabis legalization law and the more comprehensive and systematic efforts it includes.)
The future of cannabis policy in the United States and in Barbados, must include expungement (preferably, automatic expungement), but also more comprehensive efforts to help the communities that have been ravaged by the War on Drugs. Legalizing cannabis doesn’t undo past arrests, and record expungement doesn’t make up for the years and decades of fewer educational, employment, and other related opportunities as a result of that drug arrest. Nor does record expungement assist the people who have been negatively affected by a family member’s drug arrest and/or incarceration.
As states legalize cannabis or seek to adjust their existing cannabis legalization policies, there are a few areas in which policy can help those most profoundly impacted by the War on Drugs. First, there must be an effort to retrain police, post-legalization in ways that help address existing and ongoing racial disparities. Police departments can use changes to cannabis laws as an ideal opportunity to address some of the behaviors, choices, and biases that contribute to inexcusable disparities that exist between non-whites and white’s arrest rates.
In addition, more effective policies must be implemented in Barbados within any cannabis industry, to create new and lasting ownership opportunities for people of color and those with previous, low-level cannabis convictions. Several states have tried to craft policies to accomplish such goals, but they have largely fallen short of expectations. Access to business licenses is a critical part of that process, but so, too, is free business consulting for new entrepreneurs and greater access to reliable capital. That access to capital cannot simply be funding for opening a business, but the cannabis industry thus far shows us that even businesses that get off the ground have trouble thriving, leading to the sale, merger, and closure of businesses. Helping business owners remain competitive is key.
Next, as states tax cannabis heavily—especially relative to other consumer products—governments must decide the most effective means of spending that money. States have directed funds toward transportation, education, mental health services, and policing, among other areas. However, community reinvestment to those communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition, the “Cannabis Opportunity Agenda,” is critical. This can be achieved by returning cannabis revenue back to Black and Brown communities, through not opening up more cannabis companies, but by supporting the type of community and economic activity that improves individuals’ well-being and achievement while lowering crime rates.
For decades, the criminal justice system in the United Snakes extracted from Black and Brown America money, human beings, and opportunity. The Barbadian reality in this respect is no different. The legal cannabis industry can help return what was taken. The history of cannabis policy demonstrates that racism was institutionalized and enforced in specific communities, and it is now legalization that must institutionalize the means for their recovery.
On Monday 7th September at 8pm, “Cannabis Barbados” will host an online discussion forum that is entitled ” Cannabis Legalization A Matter Of Constitutional And Human Rights “. You are invited.
Source: Brookings -John Hudak