A couple of years ago, Chicago-native Twista, holder of the 1992 Guinness World Record as the fastest rapper in the globe and frequent Kanye West collaborator, was arrested for cannabis possession. After the ordeal, the artist issued a statement arguing that being arrested for holding small amounts of weed in the U.S. in 2016 was comparable to being detained for jaywalking.
Data shows that, even despite the massive shift in public opinion in relation to cannabis, with surveys showing that more than 65 percent of the American population now supports legalization, a lot of people are still being arrested for pot-related offenses. And this holds particularly true for minorities.
According to the ACLU, cannabis consumption levels are pretty similar among black and white people. However, black people are almost four times more likely than white people to get arrested for possession.
“By now, most of the world is aware that the war on drugs was racially targeted,” Larisa Bolivar of the National Diversity and Inclusion Cannabis Alliance (NDICA) explained. “The disparity in the number of arrests for nonviolent cannabis offenses tells the story pretty clearly, as do the historical campaigns against cannabis.
“Even more compelling is the ongoing disparity and targeted arrests in legal states like Colorado, [where] blacks are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for cannabis. If you look at the total demographics of the state with Hispanics making up 21.3 percent, blacks only making up 4.5 percent, and whites 87.5 percent, it seems really unfair and targeted when almost 90 percent of the [legal] cannabis industry is white and the majority of their consumer base is white.”
When prompted about his own experience, Twista told The Fresh Toast that he is “definitely glad to see a lot of states legalize cannabis, because legalization stops some of the excuses for law enforcement agencies to act in ways that may be considered racially-biased—like racial profiling.”
Twista believes “cannabis has been used over time to criminalize marginalized sectors of the society; to do stuff to people that didn’t necessarily deserve it.”
Adding to this point is Berner, a rapper of Latinx heritage who’s known for his love of weed, his multiple, successful cannabis businesses, and the famous strains he’s responsible for having developed—like Girl Scout Cookies and Gelato. He said: “We know for a fact that the police racially profile people every day, whether it’s Latinos, blacks, or whatever… There’s just this crazy stigma that will never go away.
“We know everybody smokes weed. So, why are more Latinos and blacks locked up for weed so much more?” he asked.
An Identity Issue
For Twista, racial disparity stems from an identity issue rather than from plain discrimination. It’s hard to look at things from a different perspective than your own, he argues.
“For example, most people tend to look up to religious figures of their own race. In other words, people tend to see things through the eyes of their likeness. So, if you show people that other people who are just like them consume cannabis while leading what they conceive as a respectable lifestyle, perceptions change.
“Sometimes people who are not pro-cannabis change their minds when you introduce them to things like a vape pen. Some people just don’t like the actual cannabis leaf, or smoking… But they feel fine with other intake methods that will not require them to roll a joint, smell like weed, etc.,” he added.
We also asked one of the top white rappers today, Chris Webby, how he felt about the racial bias in cannabis arrests.
“This country still has a long way to go,” he said, acknowledging that, “as a white kid,” he often does not experience such racially motivated harassment, even in spite of the fact that his body is pretty much covered in tattoos.
“If I get pulled over, they look at me a little interestingly, but I’m still a white kid, and it is crazy, man. I’ve been able to just drive away from so many things that I should have probably been arrested for,” Webby continued. This goes to show that “racism is still prevalent in this country and it’s fucking disgusting. It should not be like this anymore; and the fact that it is proves how far this country still has to go.”
Same as for Twista, it’s all about identity for Webby. “I only talk about my experience as a human being on this planet… I have totally earned my stripes, I have worked very hard for this [to become a respected rapper]. But, at the end of the day, the way that the world sees me is as a white rapper and that’ll never change—just like a cop sees a black guy in a car when he pulls him over… Cultural differences should be celebrated, but the discrimination based on color we see in this country… it’s unfortunate.”
The Powers That Be
By means of conclusion, The Fresh Toast asked the rappers where they think the racial bias in cannabis arrests stems from.
For Webby, it goes back to the privatization of prisons, and the fact that sending people to jail is a big business.
This has been confirmed to a certain extent by John Ehrlichman, counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs under Richard Nixon. During an interview with Harper’s Magazine in 2016, Ehrlichman said:
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.
When we brought this up, neither Webby, nor Berner, nor Twista, were surprised.
“Cannabis’s illegality gives officers an excuse to do petty things to people who are considered minorities—like Latinos and blacks; to send people that were doing nothing wrong to jail,” Twista noted.
Berner finds it hard to explain. “I’ve been through this shit, so I know exactly why it is. It’s just kind of hard to explain, but the short story is that these motherfuckers are racist, and that’s what it boils down to.”
“The bad guys always fucking win,” Webby ended. “All you can do in this life is just try to be the best version of yourself, try to be a Jedi, no matter how many Jedi’s get taken down, slaughtered. You still have to be Luke Skywalker and keep fighting, trying to make the world around you as good as it can be. That’s why I have a problem with all of these rappers who are much more famous than me, have this incredible platform and use it for nothing but personal gain.”
Photo by Javier Hasse.