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 “reefer madness” and misleading studies into the effects of cannabis, America’s complicated and racialized relationship with cannabis continues to this day.
Now, as legislation and popular opinion about the drug shifts, a national conversation about cannabis has begun. Each year, legalization spreads from state to state, with thirty-three states and the District of Columbia having passed laws broadly legalizing or decriminalizing cannabis in some form.
It’s used to treat symptoms associated with diseases such as AIDS, cancer, and glaucoma. And whether it’s for medicinal purposes or recreation, cannabis remains the most widely used illicit drug in America.
Known for his riveting comic biographies of pop culture icons such as Andre the Giant and Andy Kaufman, Box Brown is a New York Times-bestselling and Ignatz Award–winning cartoonist, illustrator, and creator of Tetris: The Games People Play. Brown is aiming high with his newest nonfiction graphic novel on this serious and timely topic: the racist legacy of cannabis legislation in America. In Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America, he delves deep into this troubling history and offers a rich, entertaining, and thoroughly-researched graphic essay.
Whether you’re a cannabis enthusiast, history buff, or graphic novel fan there’s something for you in Cannabis. Get your own copy wherever books are sold and smoke out the truth.
For more information about Box Brown visit boxbrown.com or follow him on social media: @boxbrown.
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