BuzzFeed investigative reporter Amanda Chicago Lewis has uncovered a strange and frustrating catch-22 in America’s changing drug policies. With public opinion shifting and prisons pushed beyond their maximum capacity to house offenders, more and more states are legalizing marijuana to one degree or another. Nearly half of them have approved medical marijuana, while 16 have said yes to non-psychoactive cannabis, and four particularly bold states (plus Washington, D.C.) have legalized the recreational use of the plant. This has created an enormous economic opportunity called the Green Boom. Just as The Onion predicted back in 1996, drugs have won the drug war. But there’s a catch, as detailed in Lewis’ article “How Black People Are Being Shut Out Of America’s Weed Boom.” While the war on marijuana may be ending, the remnants of that war are still in effect. Namely, though Americans of all races were equally likely to violate the country’s marijuana laws, African-Americans were much more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for those violations. And with those past convictions in their records, they are not being allowed to legally distribute marijuana.
Lewis’ article is the result of months of intense investigation, and it reveals that America’s prohibition on marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs has an alarmingly racist past. In their efforts to denounce various drugs, the press has a long and troubling history of describing African-Americans and Latinos as animals driven wild by controlled substances. Drug laws have basically picked up where Jim Crow laws left off, and they have been scarily effective in targeting black Americans. According to the article, there were more African-Americans imprisoned on drug charges in 2008 than were enslaved in 1850. Anti-drug propaganda of the past Lewis also studies the problem in a microcosm via the struggles of a man referred to in the story as “the Distributor.” He is a fiftysomething African-American man who wants to go legit and dispense marijuana legally in California, but his past is preventing him from doing so.