I’m black, so obviously I support this concept that my life matters too. I also grew up in the suburbs of South Jersey, in a two-parent middle class home…
I officially entered the cannabis legalization movement on November 24, 1997. On that day I was arrested in Bellmawr, New Jersey, by the Camden County drug task force for ‘possession of marijuana with intent to distribute’ when a 40-pound package was delivered by Fed-Ex. Many activists start their activism in handcuffs, and I was no different. That cold steel around your wrists for cannabis – it makes people want to change shit. So I’m not apologetic that my activism started in earnest after I was arrested.
What really motivated me was I felt my life mattered, my life was important to me and my family. I didn’t want my life to be ruined by the War on Drugs, as had already happened to so many of my friends.
From the very beginning I publicly fought my case. I knew the War on Drugs was created mainly through racism, because I’ve always been a history lover. I knew who Harry Anslinger was and how the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was legislative Jim Crowism, but when I included the racist aspects of the War on Drugs in my public marijuana legalization activism I got massive pushback from members of the mainstream cannabis legalization movement. I was told “we’re all green” and was constantly asked why I had to bring race into it—why can’t it just be a bad War on Drugs rather than a racist War on Drugs, as I referred to it.
The truth hurt some; they didn’t want to hear it, or champion it—denial was normal.
I knew the statistics: 70% of all cannabis arrestees were people of color. I knew we were treated as chattel for the new age concrete plantation system (prison). But it seemed to me that this huge statistic didn’t matter; at that time the cannabis movement was focused on medical marijuana; to them gay AIDS patients’ lives mattered, and that agenda successfully got us medical marijuana. Again, I’ve always included the racial aspect of the War on Drugs as part of my legalization agenda, which hasn’t earned me many THC brownie points. I was called a “loose cannon” and a “radical with a militant nonconformist mentality” because I always thought #blacklivesmattered.
I also knew substances controlled by whites were legal—e.g., tobacco, alcohol—and then there were the legal pharmaceuticals. But the substances that were historically “controlled” by people of color were made illegal by our all-white Congress. It’s no secret that tobacco and alcohol kill, so putting black lives in a cage for a harmless—and even beneficial—substance was not OK with me. I felt my life and all black lives mattered!
In the last three years, basically since the murder of Trayvon Martin/acquittal of George Zimmerman, there’s been a movement to highlight the different treatment black males receive in U.S. society. After the “murder” of Michael Brown in the city of Ferguson, Missouri, and the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office’s fraudulent presentation of facts to the grand jury, the #blacklivesmatter hashtag and movement officially began. Now my whole life I’ve noticed it, I’ve been a victim of it, and I’ve watched my friends and family members become victims of it as well. My cannabis legalization efforts have always focused on black lives mattering.
Admittedly, while I was in Riverfront State Prison (Camden, NJ) from December 2000 to April 2002 I met several white guys in there for cannabis—I consider them white collateral damage in the racist War on Drugs. I know for a fact white people become victims of the system too, whether it’s overzealous police shootings or robust drug law enforcement—but not at the rates blacks do, because the SHITSTEM doesn’t think our lives matter!
There are numerous cannabis legalization organizations around the country, but very rarely did they dwell on the black lives that were disproportionately destroyed by the marijuana laws. I’m a black man with a black life before I am a cannabis activist, and the reality of the situation is that in this country race matters. There is institutional racism and some just don’t notice it at all, whereas its victims can’t seem to get away from it.
So many times the majority institutions in this country have relied on institutional racism and the status quo, which leaves many minorities at the short end of the equality stick. Now a culture of fear has sprung up on all sides, and it’s fanning the flames of this nationwide conflagration of violence that consumes individuals and communities as it ravages society. Fear of societal decline coupled with a belief that some people are “other,” i.e., inferior, has lead to some of the greatest massacres and injustices in human history.
The cannabis legalization movement should embrace the Black Lives Matter movement, and embracing this doesn’t mean excluding others, and it doesn’t mean that other lives are less important. When I first saw the #blacklivesmatter hashtag I thought they made one mistake: They should have said, “black lives matter too.” Now we have all these hashtags—all lives matter, blue lives matter, etc.—and I believe those hashtags were created to undermine the #blacklivesmatter hashtag.