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Black Women Don't Have The Same 'Pot Privilege' As White Women

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Weed, marijuana, pot, chronic, sticky-icky, ganja, herb, mary jane, grass, cannabis … whatever you call it, you know it has long been pegged as a gateway drug, and those who used it were seen as either stoners and/or criminals. But almost everyone likely knows at least a user or two, or may even be a user themselves. And most users, especially women, don’t admit to it openly because there is a stigma around cannabis.

But over the last couple of decades, Americans’ attitude about and acceptance of cannabis has seen a drastic change. Still, not everyone is treated equally when it comes to cannabis usage. There is even more stigma around weed when it comes to people of color, particularly women, and most of all, Black women … and it’s infuriating.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: The images we are sold about weed users are either white male skateboarder and surfer types or Black drug dealers, rappers, and gangster types. Rarely do we imagine everyday people as users, and most definitely not the mom next door or the female CEO at work. But a quick scan of social media will show you that more and more women are openly using cannabis recreationally and medicinally or advocating its usage as part of the wellness industry.

But a lot of Black women will never openly admit to cannabis usage. That’s not a privilege they can exercise freely because not only does it carry a social stigma, but there is also a considerable risk of criminal repercussions for people of color, even in states where it is considered legal. And if you think that’s ridiculous … you may want to check your privilege.

The truth is, cannabis has been severely criminalized in Black and brown communities since the War on Drugs began in the 1960s. And although cannabis has now become a $61 billion industry, the industry is mostly dominated by white males, and Black and brown communities that have been the most penalized in the past are not benefiting from this lucrative, developing industry.

According to the ACLU, extreme racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests persist throughout the country and have not improved since 2010. The ACLU found that although Black and white cannabis users between ages 18 and 25 have used cannabis at roughly the same rate, Black users are 3.64 times more likely to be arrested in the United States for cannabis charges.

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In 2016, according to research from Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall (2nd District), more than 90 percent of those arrested in Atlanta for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana in 2016 were African American. The data also showed that Black women were arrested for weed twice as often as white men. And in San Francisco, Black women accounted for 30% of felony marijuana arrests, although they only made up 6% of the population. Also, Black women with newborn children are 1.5 times more likely to be tested for illicit drug use than other women, and positive tests can result in children being taken away.

Furthermore, Black women are constantly aware of the generational effect the war on drugs has had on Black and brown communities and how they are viewed within the larger marijuana context. Black women already battle stereotypical tropes such as the angry Black woman and the over-sexualized Jezebel and “misogynoir,” a form of misogyny uniquely experienced by Black women. So any behavior that seems socially unacceptable is even more so for women of color.

And although we are beginning to see more images of women using cannabis in less stigmatizing ways, women of color are not being included in that narrative. Mary Louise-Parker starred in “Weeds” as a recently widowed mother turned drug dealer. Kathy Bates starred as a pot user and activist in Netflix’s “Disjointed.” Lily Tomlin’s character in “Grace and Frankie” openly uses marijuana, and we can’t forget Barbra Streisand’s rendition of the “hippie” mom in “Meet The Fockers.” Do you see the running theme here?

It’s clear that the use of weed is becoming normalized, and the cannabis industry is experiencing massive growth across our nation. The National Conference of State Legislatures shared that as of May 2021, 36 U.S. states and 4 territories have legalized cannabis for medical use. In addition, 17 states and 2 territories (plus Washington, D.C.) have legalized cannabis for recreational use for people over 21 years old.

And yes, legalization is an important step towards ending the stigma attached to cannabis usage. But as this change occurs, we have to recognize that not everyone is treated equally. Ivy Ann Rosado stated in an article she wrote for Filter Magazine, “Legalization needs to occur alongside a larger cultural shift. White people can no longer dominate marijuana spaces. Women of color need to be included and seen, or we’ll continue to be dehumanized and criminalized for our choices.”

In the same article, Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator at the Office of National Affairs of the Drug Policy Alliance, expressed, “It is going to take a large shift. It’s not even about policy. It’s bigger than drug policy, when we’re talking about how Black women are seen in society—it’s not even an issue with the plant, but with how people see Black women.”

So yes … celebrate the legalization of cannabis, and feel free to exercise your right and privilege to use it openly. But when doing so, please don’t ignore the fact that not everyone has the same privilege.

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