This week, rap superstar and Pittsburgh native Wiz Khalifa caused an uproar as he threw out the first pitch at the Pirates’ final home game of the season. Taking the pitcher’s mound, while sporting a “Legalize It” t-shirt, Khalifa pretended to toke a joint prior to throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.
While NFL players are causing a public debate by taking a knee during the national anthem, in a purported stand against police brutality and racism, the sentiment expressed by Khalifa – that cannabis should be legalized – would almost certainly be a more effective prescription to combat racist policing and brutality.
But how you ask?
Well, according to the Drug Policy Alliance:
The drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups, manifested through racial discrimination by law enforcement and disproportionate drug war misery suffered by communities of color.
Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug law violations than are whites.
Higher arrest and incarceration rates for African Americans and Latinos are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use or sales in these communities, but rather of a law enforcement focus on urban areas, on lower-income communities and on communities of color as well as inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system. We believe that the mass criminalization of people of color, particularly young African American men, is as profound a system of racial control as the Jim Crow laws were in this country until the mid-1960s.
The life-long penalties and exclusions that follow a drug conviction have created a permanent second-class status for millions of Americans, who may be prohibited from voting, being licensed, accessing public assistance and any number of other activities and opportunities. The drug war’s racist enforcement means that all of these exclusions fall more heavily on people and communities of color.
Of course, in typical fashion, Major League Baseball (MLB) issued a statement rebuking Khalifa’s pro-marijuana stance, noting: “Marijuana is a (prohibited) substance in all of our drug programs and it is unfortunate this situation occurred.”
Historically, the prohibition of cannabis began as a racist endeavor meant to control Mexican immigration into the United States and to help boost the profits of large pharmaceutical companies.
According to a report by the Foundation for Economic Education:
Around 1910, the Mexican Revolution was starting to boil over, and many Mexicans immigrated to the U.S. to escape the conflict. This Mexican population had its own uses for cannabis, and they referred to it as “marihuana.” Not only did they use it for medicinal purposes, but they smoked it recreationally – a new concept for white Americans. U.S. politicians quickly jumped on the opportunity to label cannabis “marihuana” in order to give it a bad rep by making it sound more authentically Mexican at a time of extreme prejudice.
It worked. Southern states became worried about the dangers this drug would bring, and newspapers began calling Mexican cannabis use a “marijuana menace.”
During the 1920s, many anti-marijuana campaigns were conducted to raise awareness about the many harmful effects the drug caused. These campaigns included radical claims stating that marijuana turned users into killers and drug addicts.
The “war against marijuana” arguably began in 1930, where a new division in the Treasury Department was established — the Federal Bureau of Narcotics — and Harry J. Anslinger was named director. This, if anything, marked the beginning of the all-out war against marijuana.
Anslinger realized that opiates and cocaine would not be enough to build his new agency, so he turned towards marijuana and worked relentlessly to make it illegal on a federal level. Some anti-marijuana quotes from Anslinger’s agency read:
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”
“…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”
While on the surface, an MLB game seems like a somewhat odd venue to promote cannabis legalization, what better stage to use as a platform than that of a publicly televised event that reaches a wide segment of the population.
Currently, recreational cannabis is not legal in Pennsylvania, but medical marijuana is.
The night after Khalifa’s MLB cannabis “protest,” the rap mega-star appeared at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Music Hall of Oakland as a speaker at Thrival Innovation’s marquee event — a discussion about the intersection of cannabis, medical marijuana, and technology.
“If you think it’s a bad thing, you’re just going to think it’s bad,” he told the crowd on Thursday evening. “Until you fully experience it, or someone around you benefits off of it … I feel like for the people who are open to it, when they do they change their mind, it’s always significant.”
Khalifa appeared on stage during a public chat with cannabis investor Marc Ruxin and John Battelle, founding editor of Wired magazine, at the opening of the two-day Thrival music festival at Carrie Furnace.
“I see it being like alcohol or something that’s more acceptable and accessible for the people,” he said of marijuana. “There’s edibles, there’s oils, there’s vapes and all of that different stuff.”
“Just with the way technology changes, peoples’ minds change on how we are actually using it. I think that’s really going to revolutionize it and make it stand out,” he continued.
Khalifa actually owns his own strain of cannabis, called “Khalifa Kush,” which is sold in three states that have legalized marijuana.
“Being that I smoke as much as I do or use as much cannabis as I do, I wanted people to have an experience that was like mine,” he said. “And I was really passionate about bringing a high-quality product that was accessible to everybody.”
The rap superstar also discussed the extreme medical benefits of medical marijuana, noting that his acting coach is using CBDs, or cannabidiol, to recover from injuries sustained during a car accident. CBD, which is derived from cannabis but is non-psychoactive, is used for various forms of pain relief in many states where medical cannabis is legal.
“She said she wouldn’t be able to make it through her days if it wasn’t for CBDs,” Khalifa said of his acting coach. “It helps a lot of with pain and people put it in creams so you’re not necessarily getting stoned off of it, but you’re still getting all of the benefits from it.”
“I’ve seen a lot of people who before might have been scared of it or might have run away from it. But now they are in situations when they are in need of it and it really helps them,” Khalifa said, in reference to the therapeutic use of cannabis for pain relief.
Although the federal government labels cannabis a Schedule I substances, denoting no known medical value, while a substance like cocaine is considered a Schedule II drug and alcohol is legal, it clearly remains the safest, and more importantly, the most medically useful of the three.
So, while NFL players take a knee in protest, what Wiz Khalifa is advocating is a viable solution to actually stemming racist policing and brutality. Ending the war on cannabis would have a drastic effect, and is a much more effective means than simply kneeling.
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