Cannabis legality in the United States.
“Where is cannabis legal in the US?”
As of 2018, 33 States plus the DC and the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands have legalized medical cannabis.
“How has the War on Drugs impacted today’s cannabis industry?”
The War on Drugs resulted in profoundly unequal long-term social and economic outcomes across racial groups in the United States, manifesting in patterns of racial discrimination by law enforcement and disproportionate misery and incarceration suffered by communities of color.
Today, the legal cannabis market is positioned to generate billions in value for wealthy investors doing the same thing that generations of minorities have been locked up for.
Cannabis in the US
In the 1910s, the Mexican Revolution saw populations of Mexican migrants arriving in the U.S. to escape the conflict. They brought over cannabis, then called marihuana, which had been used for centuries for medicinal and recreational purposes. Southern states that were receiving these migrant populations became increasingly agitated by their presence, and used cannabis as a means of arresting and deporting them.
“As Americans sought a pretext to vilify this new immigrant community, they found an ideal culprit in marijuana…fear and anti-immigrant sentiment prompted state-level bans on cannabis…”
El Paso, Texas became the first U.S. city to ban marijuana in 1915. City officials started rounding up Mexicans who smoked marijuana and had them deported. At this time, newspapers and tabloids were building a campaign against the plant, much of it grounded in these racist ideologies. source
“Newspapers ran headlines speaking of the "Mexican menace" or the "marijuana menace" and claimed Mexican men were going crazy from smoking marijuana and killing people.”
Cannabis legislation, like Marijuana Tax Act (1937), began to prohibit personal use of cannabis outside of specific medical or industrial purposes. The Boggs Act (1952) and the Narcotics Control Act (1956) saw the federal government imposing minimum prison sentences for drug crimes, including possession of any amount of cannabis.
The War on Drugs
These policies escalated in the War on Drugs in the 1970s. President Nixon presented the agenda alongside a focus on broader drug eradication, interdiction and incarceration.
“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, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Federal studies on the effects of the War of Drugs show disproportionate outcomes for people of color, particularly African Americans in the criminal justice system:
African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is 6 times that of whites.
African Americans represent 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses.
Having a criminal record in the U.S. makes it more difficult to find employment and those who have been incarcerated earn 10 to 40 percent less than similar workers without a history of incarceration.
Parental incarceration rates for African Americans are 2 to 7 times higher for Black and Hispanic children than White children, and parental incarceration is a strong risk factor for a number of adverse outcomes, including but not limited to mental health problems, school dropout, and unemployment.