Did you know that in 2000 BCE India, cannabis farmers believed that the plant was created by a celestial tug of war between gods and demons? Or that the first recorded use of a joint was in 1850s Mexico?
Did you know that during the Spanish conquests in 1519 CE, Cortes introduced hemp farming as part of his violent colonial campaign?
In secret, locals began cultivating the plant for consumption. It eventually made its way to the United States through the immigrant labor force where it was shared with Black laborers. It didn’t take long for American lawmakers to decry cannabis as the vice of “inferior races.”
From the nineteenth century to the twenty-first, cannabis legislation in America and racism have been inextricably linked. 451,138 people were arrested for cannabis in 1985 alone; even today, if you identify as a member of a minority group in the United States, you are up to eight times more likely to be arrested for violating cannabis laws.
Enter an era of propaganda designed to feed moral panic about the dangers of a plant that had been used by humanity for thousands of years. As lies spread about the effect the drug had on minority populations in the US, presidents Nixon and Reagan cracked down hard on the plant.
Cannabis was given a schedule I classification, which it shares with drugs like heroin. This opened the door for a so-called “war on drugs” that disproportionately targeted young black men, leaving hundreds of thousands in prison, many for minor infractions. With its roots in