Let's Talk About Weed

Green British flag with an illustration of a cannabis leaf in the centre
By Anjali Kawa

The legalisation of medical weed in the UK in recent days again brings up the issue of how the thriving black market of cannabis is treated by politicians and the wider public, and the bigger issue of how skin colour often dictates how users are treated.

After a news story broke of a 12-year-old child being denied his cannabis oil - used to cope with his epilepsy - and having it confiscated at Heathrow airport, the Home Office has announced they will be legalising medical weed, available on prescription.

While this is an important step for the health of many people, it also is continuing the conversation on how drugs are treated in this country and in the West generally. The legalisation of drugs in Portugal has led to lower addiction rates and has helped many people overcome their addictions, rather than fuel them as many people believe.

Not only will the legalisation of drug (such as cannabis) help people to fight their drug addictions; as it becomes less of a taboo subject, it will also help to alleviate the racism that has infested drugs based criminal justice.

While it was difficult to find any statistics on how people of different races are treated when being charged with drug offenders in both the UK and the US, it’s clear from pop culture that there are divisions. It’s a well-embraced fact that black people are targeted in both UK and US for drug offences, with stop and searches in the UK being a contentious issue.

However, every now and then, articles or features or shows pop up that endorse weed, but from an extremely white perspective. A show on Netflix called ‘Cooking on High’ shows people cooking cannabis, and with no big prizes or flashy staging: the aim is clearly to get the judges high and endorse the legalisation of the drug.

A tweet about a restaurant in the US that served tempura marijuana leaves caused some outrage, with people questioning how white people are able to flaunt their appreciation for the drug, while black and brown people suffer long sentences and stereotyping. The first response to the original tweet was this exact concern.

This article faced similar backlash: the cover image depicting what looks like white women, and the article talking about how they make money from celebrating their use of the drug. The response was similar - an outcry of ‘what about the people who lost their freedom by doing the same thing?’.

While the medical legalisation of weed does break down some stigma around the drug and what impact it can have on people, it forces the issue of race within drugs to rise back to the surface.

With stereotypes in Britain that London’s businessmen are chained to cocaine as popular as the one that young black men do little more than abuse cannabis, it’s clear to see that one is much more discussed and acted upon.

This policy does something to break down stigma about the drug itself, but the public opinion on drugs is still very much black and white.