legalized weed in America: one of many chips on my Black shoulder
in some ways, the following post is a departure—an aside, if you will—from this blog’s usual content matter, while in other ways it’s entirely not. either way, i’d like to take a moment to share a random snippet of my dealings with reverse culture shock as a repatriated Black American.
we’d be here all day if i were to recount all of the various ways in which being in America has been or presently is jarring for me since my return. it’s readily apparent to me how much America has changed a lot since 2007 when i left the country. change is made all the more poignant by time and distance. watching America change from The Outside—keeping up with the happenings via news and social media—did little to soften the poignancy of suddenly finding myself back on The Inside. 2020 America isn’t—and never again will be—2007 America and the same could be said for me, of course. the eyes through which i view America as a 34 year old repatriate are markedly different from those through which i’d viewed America previously as a closeted 20something college student. even if America hadn’t changed, it would still have changed enough to be disorientating to me… so today i’ll sidestep the rabbit hole of “????” and “UGHHH” that sometimes colors my experience of America and instead focus on one thing that (try as i might) i haven’t been able to shake feeling somekindofway about…
that is, the legalization and subsequent commercialization of marijuana.
at the time of me leaving America, few states had “decriminalized” marijuana, a small but gradually increasing number of states had begun to legalize it for medical use, and no state had yet to legalize it for recreational use. within my little bubble of sheltered existence, the debate over its legalization was a non-issue: i didn’t know anyone who used it, had no real framework with which to even form an opinion about it beyond that of the D.A.R.E program of the early-mid 90’s, questionable media coverage and existing stigmatization of the substance itself. in so far as i remember, even on a much grander, national scale, the debate over recreational legalization had yet to even reach the fervor that it eventually would after i’d left.
all that to say that i left the country with pre-existing feelings riddled with stigmatization and general ignorance about marijuana which went unchecked and unchallenged until returning not only to America, but to the state of Washingon specifically, where billboards advertising it are almost as frequent as those advertising gun shows and strip clubs in Vegas. it’s a booming industry from which the state profits.
for me, moving from Japan—with its zero tolerance of (and near non-existence of) marijuana—to Washington has been akin to having gone from 0 km/h to 100 mp/h within the span of an overnight plane ride. suddenly seeing billboards advertising shop that sell it on the side of the road and knowing people who not only use it, but who work in the industry selling it, kind of… has me struggling to process and update my feelings.
i’ll be the first to admit that i really need to put more effort into educating myself; destigmatizing my understanding of / feelings about marijuana itself is a necessary first step for moving forward. that said, parsing out where the stigmatization and ignorance ends and legit criticism begins has been difficult, especially with regards to the industry that now thrives off of the commercialization of it.
as a black person born and raised in 80’s / 90’s America, i grew up constantly hearing about and seeing drugs (namely weed) being associated with people like me. seeing the so-called Drug Wars™ play out in my living room night after night in the form of the reality tv series “COPS” and the nightly news talking about “criminals”, “gangbangers”, “hoodlums” who looked like me and my family way more often than any fictional characters or celebrities did.
like many Black kids, i grew up being warned about ever having anything to do with drugs or anyone else who had dealings with them because ‘you know what’ll happen if they even so much as suspect you.’ like many Black parents in the 90’s, my mom had to sit me and my sister down and have Talks about things that other families did not, which is why any time someone insinuated that i knew even the first thing about marijuana (or any other drug) or even so much as referred to unknown other people as “stoners” or “potheads”, the warnings that i’d heard growing up would come rushing back to me. i knew that unlike my peers, neither of those words would be the euphemism associated with me someone of my ethnicity be caught using, carrying, or even simply knowing people who did.
so, yeah. i hold a grudge against the marijuana industry in America; a massive chip on my shoulder named Resentment that i doubt will ever go away, but i’m trying to at least not let it color my view of marijuana itself.
keyword being “trying”.
hundreds of thousands upon thousands of people—people who are disproportionately Black—have been rounded up, locked away, had their lives and the lives of their loved ones ruined all because of a substance that the American government decided was illegal. that is, until Corporate White America turned around and decided that it was more profitable [than mass incarceration] for them to legalize its usage a mere decade after the ‘official’ Drug Wars of the Clinton administration; a ‘war’ that still rages on in many places today. suddenly weed is now “cannabis” and has medicinal properties that ought to be legalized and monetized because white America stands to profit [and otherwise benefit] from it. meanwhile, hundreds of thousands upon thousands remain in prison for as little as simply possessing said substance, all while white America makes millions off of the legalization of it.
am i supposed to be happy or satisfied that (supposedly) most of Washington state’s $367.4 million income from its marijuana industry (2018) will supposedly be invested back into the state…? happy enough to overlook the fact that 18% of the population of prisons in WA is Black despite Black people comprising of a mere 4% of the state’s overall population? (2018) disregarding the fact that drug-related crimes typically account for some of the largest racial disparities in prison demographics?
societal associations regarding marijuana and drugs in general continue to be racially biased against Black people, Latinx, and other ethnic minorities, despite the reality that is white [Corporate] America holding the weed industry by its balls, having monopolized the market to the point that only a fifth of the industry’s stockholders identify as a racial minority (4% of whom identify as Black) and only 1% of dispensaries are even Black-owned.
just to be clear, in voicing my feelings i’m not trying to guilt or otherwise fault anyone for their consumption of marijuana and/or participation in the industry. it’s cathartic to vent about it aloud in my little corner of the web, so that’s what i’ve chosen [time and time again] to do.
it never ceases to frustrate me, the role that white America plays, both as the instigator of stigmatization and the arbitrator of social capital; dictator of the commodification of people, cultures, beliefs, etc that are deemed “other” until “other” is assigned societal currency or value in the eyes of its commodifier—at which point something becomes ‘exotic’, ‘cool’, ‘edgy’, ‘profitable’, or otherwise beneficial and / or circumstantially acceptable.
perhaps the worst and most conflicting part of all, for me personally anyway, is that in being a Washingtonian, an American, a consumer, etc… to some degree or another, i too am benefiting from the very things that piss me off. from state healthcare to road infrastructure, educational funding and more—i [presumably] stand to benefit from state revenue from marijuana just as surely as anyone else. just as surely as white Americas, i live on unceded land that i have no right to, and i refuse to use my ancestor’s enslavement to excuse that, even if it does contextualize it.
there’s so much shit about this country and my own personal relationship to it as a repatriated, queer, Black American that in some ways (although not always) it was easier to just stay abroad and avoid dealing with it. now that that’s no longer an option and i am once again faced with that it means to be Black in America on the daily, it’s hard not to falter.
it’s always balancing act: acknowledging the validity of my own feelings, while simultaneously being mindful of the fact that in actuality i don’t know shit and am as biased and prone to social stigma & ignorance as anyone else. that said, in openly and unabashedly talking about my feelings of Resentment with regards to the weed industry in America, it feels as if i’m at least moving forward in some kind of way, be it in the right direction or not.
now if only i could, like. stop being awkward whenever weed comes up in conversation around me, which is more often than you might think. #BecauseWashington. sigh.