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Originally published in Maryland Matters on March 15, 2023:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” — John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s former aide.

This intentional smear framing and more than 50 years of propaganda spewed by the media and politicians has not only allowed law enforcement to unfairly target and criminalize Black people, but it has also seeped deep into our subconscious: the idea that Black people are inherently criminal. Understanding this, we must be intentional about unlearning and rejecting this notion.

As of July 1, 2023, marijuana will be legal in Maryland. There is no reason why the odor of a legal substance should continue to be used as a tool by law enforcement to stop and search people, especially when police have disproportionately stopped and searched Black and Brown people. Allowing police to continue to do so not only promotes lazy policing but is rooted in the subconscious or conscious belief that Black people are inherently criminal.

The war on drugs has always really been a war on Black people. For decades, the alleged odor of marijuana has been used as an excuse to justify racial profiling and perform warrantless stops and searches. Associations between Black people and marijuana frame Black people as inherently criminal or bad. In contrast, white people and marijuana is framed as recreational or medicinal.

Read the full article here