Similarly to my last blog, I have gathered a list of petitions at the end of this post that you can sign to help make the Cannabis industry more inclusive. If we want to legalize and decriminalize Marijuana, there is no reason why individuals should still be locked up due to their complexion when others can profit off of it. Please take the time to sign at least one petition.
Marijuana has always been an interesting conversation. As it’s become more mainstream and accepted with Cannabis food shows and 420 festivals, it’s easy to forget about all of those who have been arrested for being caught with it. But unfortunately, even as it’s becoming decriminalized and legalized across the country, those people are still behind bars. Their records are still tainted. And let’s be honest now, they’re almost all black. As white people have been praised for their innovative uses of cannabis, black people have been criticized and stereotyped for those same things. Weed is portrayed differently depending on the person and one way we see this is in hip-hop music. Over time, white artists have used Marijuana to be edgy, fighting the system, or embracing their hippie roots. And yet when hip-hop artists rap about the plant that everyone seems to love, they’re portrayed as thugs and drug dealers. Hell, some of those lyrics are even used as probable cause in court cases. It’s gotten to a point where using the term “hustling” in rap lyrics has become synonymous with drug dealing. As a result, this diminishes the hard work that a lot of these artists had to put in to become successful and groups rappers under one stereotype. As we continue to raise awareness over the injustices occurring in the United States, one thing we need to reevaluate is the systematic racism in the Cannabis industry and all of the lives that have still been wrongly affected by this.
One of the first artists that come to mind when thinking about this issue is Chance the Rapper. His mixtape, 10 Day, is based on his ten-day suspension from school for smoking weed. In the song “22 Offs,” he recollects how he was followed by a police officer off of school property to smoke a joint in a back alley. He questioned the officer as to how he knew where Chance was going, and the officer lied and said he saw it from the school parking lot. Although one could argue that this wouldn’t happen to Chance the Rapper today with his fame and fortune, other rappers prove otherwise. Hell, Lil Wayne got arrested in 2007 for smoking weed near his tour bus. He was later arrested again in 2008 and 2009. Yes, some of those charges involved other types of drugs and weapons, but marijuana was always at the root of the problem. It was enough for the officers to search his property for other paraphernalia. Philly’s very own Meek Mill fell victim to this. Even 2 Chainz got arrested twice in 2013 for marijuana in both Maryland and San Francisco. In fact, according to 2 Chainz, when he was arrested in Maryland, his security guard tried to take the fall and claim that the weed was his but the police simply stated that they knew he didn’t smoke. Even 2 Chainz was curious as to what they based this allegation on. At the end of the day, whether famous rappers or young teenagers at school, they were black men doing something even remotely illegal, and that’s enough for the police.
But what types of concrete evidence can be used against a rapper besides allegations based on stereotypes? How about an artist’s lyrics? Although this isn’t all that common, rappers’ songs have been brought up against them in drug charges, with the most notable being Montana Millz and his song, “Sellz Drugz.” After selling heroin to an undercover cop, his rap lyrics were brought up in the courtroom. The lyrics weren’t specific enough to get him in too much trouble,but it’s still frustrating that while a lot of art is considered fiction or exaggeration, we can’t seem to acknowledge this rule for hip-hop, a genre notoriously based on story-telling. Nevertheless, there are a few instances in which I personally struggle to separate the art from the artist. For instance, I don’t condone a lot of Eminem’s themes on domestic abuse or Rick Ross’s “U.O.E.N.O,” where he mentions roofying women. I would also probably advise exercising caution if you actually have done the violent crimes you’re rapping about, like Bobby Shmurda. However, I do think that there’s an issue with perception on more intense themes depending on the genre. If we want to consider art as a means of expression, then that should stand true for all types of music and not just the songs that are deemed appropriate enough for Kidz Bop. It makes it a bit worrisome to think about artists like Biggie, Fat Joe, and Pusha T. These artists are all known for actually selling drugs, and that makes up a lot of what they rap about. But when you have lines like “I keep that Ziploc bustin’ at the stitches/culinary chemist, I serve the malicious, to break the fiends’ fixes/one give you the sniffles, the other, leave you with the itches” from Pusha T’s “I’m Not You” and that’s your reality and not simply hyperbole, when does it become incriminating instead of freedom of expression?
“No other fictional form — musical, literary or cinematic — is used this way in the courts, a concerning double standard that research suggests is rooted, at least in part, in stereotypes about the people of color primarily associated with rap music, as well as the misconception that hip-hop and the artists behind it are dangerous.“Killer Mike’s Op-Ed
It’s frustrating that most singers and songwriters can write about marijuana and drug use without having to face potentially negative repercussions simply because their style is more socially acceptable. It’s even more aggravating when those same substances are becoming more mainstream to help treat mental health issues and other illnesses, but still seem to be villainized in the context of hip-hop culture. For instance, medical dispensaries are an incredible way to assist with depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. I am very anti-big pharm, so it is a beautiful alternative. Even shrooms have proven to have medicinal benefits and are becoming legalized. However, when rappers talk about self-medicating or using these same alternatives to help with mental illnesses, it’s never perceived the same way. For instance, in Scarface’s “Mary Jane,” the rapper explains that “when you sad, depressed, and feeling strange, who you blame/need some company to keep you sane, call her name/Mary Jane I love you, Mary Jane, do your thang/you’re all I need to keep me through this thang,” which is a fairly honest admission. He even juxtaposes it with a “cancer stick” or “brew,” emphasizing which option is a healthier coping mechanism. If anything, the whole song is pretty on par with Geto Boys in general. Their music was extremely conscious and politically active which contrasted heavily with their aggressive beats, helping to prove that not all rap has negative messages. The song even discusses the politics of weed including how it’s taxed. Unfortunately, it’s still thought of as just another stoner song when in reality, it’s quite informative. Even in Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Weed Song,” they rapped that “if everybody smoked a blunt, relieve the mind, the world could be a better place/if everybody took a break and we all just got wasted.” They’re not talking about shooting anyone or robbing people on the streets. The whole song is literally talking about a smoke session and getting the munchies and whatnot and yet, it would still get associated with gangsters and drug dealing because they’re black and rapping about some sort of substance.
I think the other issue is that when weed is associated with hip-hop culture, it’s considered a drug. And yet when it’s thought of in more mainstream ways, it’s labeled a plant. It holds two very different connotations, similarly to how it’s viewed between black “dealers” and white “entrepreneurs.” However, even when looking at hip-hop songs, the way artists rap about drugs versus marijuana shows that there is a difference. Half the time the songs are about vibing out, fucking, eating, or listening to music. Pharcyde is one of my favorite examples. In “Pack The Pipe,” they literally turn down the weed because it’s mixed with tobacco. They want pure 100% flower, stating that “if [they] wanted to smoke tobacco, [they’d] get a skinny white bitch,” showing that just because they smoke weed doesn’t mean they mess around with harder, more dangerous substances. They even associate the toxic tobacco with white people, and that speaks volumes. And contrary to what a lot of boomers think, joints are far safer than cigarettes.
Honestly, a lot of these songs about drugs do raise a bit of concern, but not for reasons you would think. Sure, there are songs about violence and drugs. It’s a dangerous life. But there are a lot of tracks that I hear where I’m like, wow. Does anyone check to see if they’re alright? But that would humanize rappers in a way that society doesn’t seem able to do. Instead, they choose to demonize them. Ab-Soul is one rapper that definitely does more than just smoke weed. Hell, he has a song called “D.R.U.G.S.” that I’ve written about numerous times because it’s one of my favorites. But that song is the polar opposite of “Pass The Blunt,” a fun song with a much lighter mood. The beat is a lot more fun, with a hypnotic sound to make it the perfect smoke song. But “D.R.U.G.S.” literally brings me tears. I know I’ve talked a lot about it, but this song is the prime example. It’s a cry for help with minor keys taking the tone down in a similar hypnotic manner, but one that just feels like a downward spiral. He states that he “still owes the weed man from down the street,” referencing “Pass The Blunt” where he first used that line, but then follows it up with the numerous other substances he uses such as “Xannies/syrup/Perc’ on top of that.”
Another example of this strong difference in tones is Kid Cudi. His track “Marijuana” features a spacey chorus that mimics how it feels to be high, singing about the “pretty green bud all in [his] blunt.” He’s known for battling mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and using marijuana to help fuel his songwriting to help as an escape. However, when you hear his track “Pursuit of Happiness” or just about any of his other songs where he references harder drugs, he shows a much more vulnerable and honestly concerning side. Rather than using these as a way to cope the way he does when he smokes weed, he looks to substances that can help alter reality, giving him a false sense of happiness. “Wild’n Cuz I’m Young” is another dark example of just how intense his themes get when he talks about drugs. The lyrics are full of anger and aggression, with a lot of references to death, similar to his song “Frequency.” I think this also raises the issue of how mental health is overlooked in rap music. Even with such stark and alarming lyrics, outsiders choose to pinpoint things such as drug abuse and violence when in reality there are larger issues at hand.
Furthermore, people overlook just why a lot of these artists had to sell drugs. Yes, some glamorize the trade. But the roots of hip-hop are ingrained in the everyday struggle, and unfortunately, this is one of them. Hustling typically means a way of making ends meet. But societally, in the context of rap music, it’s become synonymous with drug dealing because that’s what a lot of people had to resort to, as exemplified in Rick Ross’s “Hustlin.” Immortal Technique’s “Peruvian Cocaine” is a beautifully tragic example, in which he talks about how “to feed [his] kids[,] [he needs] these bricks” showing that even the most conscious of artists may have had to resort to the drug trade, and while it wasn’t necessarily their number one option, it provided more assistance than the government ever did. Freeway’s “What We Do” furthers this point by explaining that while they recognize the immorality of the trade, it’s necessary because, in today’s economy, a day job just isn’t substantial enough. Both Outkast’s “West Savannah” and The Last Mr. Bigg’s “Trial Time” show the truth of young impressionable teenagers who got in the game because of their lack of parental guidance or desire for nice things, something a lot of the youth can relate to. It’s easy to get caught up when your neighborhood is selling you dreams, and a lot of the times it was necessary to stay safe and out of harm’s way. Cam’Ron also shows a different truth to the drug dealing game in his track “Losin Weight” where he discusses the actuality in profits when selling drugs and the fact that most of the time it’s a short time fix, raising the question of, “why [he] ain’t got no money if [he’s] movin weight?” KRS-One’s “Love’s Gonna Get’cha” and Hot Boys’ “Tuesday and Thursday” are also two amazing examples of the dangers of the drug game, not in terms of within the hood, but with the law. They acknowledged that they had to put their lives on the line to do what they had to do for their families. These are all examples in which the country has failed its citizens, especially black people, which caused those in vulnerable positions to turn to selling drugs, a profitable yet dangerous way to live life. While some made it look glitzy and bold, others showed the reality of it and the ways in which the system made it difficult to survive without an adequate source of income, something which even now is an issue. Now while these are more extreme cases of drug dealing, we can still run it parallel to selling Marijuana. Marijuana, which is being debated in courtrooms as something to stimulate the economy, was used as a means to an end; a way to make some money when the day job wasn’t quite cutting it. And now, while it’s a multi-million dollar industry, these same people who got caught up on their corners by cops, either for probable cause or simple racial profiling, are still locked up in prisons. How is that fair?
It’s incredible just how many songs there are about marijuana and other substances that don’t have to hold the weight of the connotations that are associated with hip-hop and Cannabis. If you check out Rolling Stone’s 20 Greatest Songs About Weed, you’ll see a lot of familiar names like The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Black Sabbath, Neil Young, and Tom Petty. And I get it. They were apart of their own types of countercultures, similarly to hip-hop. But there’s still a difference. Certain songs are deemed okay because of how they’re accepted in society. When looking at mainstream songs like Lady Gaga’s “Mary Jane Holland” or Florida Georgia Line’s “Sun Daze,” it’s all of a sudden such a normal thing to sing about. Hell, even artists like The Weeknd and Ed Sheeran can sing about doing cocaine and other harder drugs in such a nonchalant manner that can make it on the radio, but rather than perceived as being dangerous or thuggish, it’s romanticized. Hip-hop relates to drug dealing. Because hip-hop is related to black culture, it then links black culture to drug dealing, even when just talking about Marijuana. If we want to legalize Marijuana and see the country truly profit off of it, then we need to release everyone, especially the black individuals who have been locked up. We need to wipe their records clean. We need to see it as something that everyone can benefit from, whether it’s for the well-being of an individual’s health, an entrepreneur’s small business, or a country’s economy.
Below is a list of petitions you can sign to help those who have been convicted for Marijuana charges as well as other petitions that can help make the industry more inclusive for black people. If you have any other petitions, please leave them in the comments below. These individuals have been arrested for selling, possessing, and other charges when the country is slowly working to decriminalize and legalize Marijuana. While certain groups are profiting off of the Cannabis industry, others are continuing to be marginalized and penalized, contributing in yet another way to systematic racism.
https://www.benjerry.com/whats-new/2019/04/420-cannabis-justice (A lot of amazing knowledge with a petition at the end)