Jay Z’s short film points out a major problem with the legalized marijuana business

A handful of states will be voting on full marijuana legalization this November, and this year alone, the legal retail marijuana industry is projected to reach roughly $4.5 billion — which is just great, really. But for all the moral victories that come with marijuana legalization after decades of the racist, senseless War on Drugs, one important issue remains, and in a new short film, Jay Z nails marijuana legalization’s racist double standard, like really only Jay Z could.

The overarching issue with legal sales of marijuana is that convicted felons still can’t open dispensaries, meaning those who previously sold drugs and were convicted for doing so are barred from participating in the now-legal industry. Where African-American drug dealers have always been portrayed as “monsters,” as the short film (appropriately titled “The War on Drugs: From Prohibition to the Gold Rush”) notes, white men are now literally getting rich doing precisely the same thing that put countless African-Americans behind bars, to be discriminated against for their drug use and sales for the rest of their lives.

“Organizations like the NAACP have been arguing for quite some time that the new regulations could prevent many African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans from entering the now billion dollar industry,” the Cannabis Law Group noted in 2015 on its legal blog, when it was revealed statewide medical marijuana laws for legal dispensaries in California would exclude people who have been convicted of marijuana distribution felonies from participating in the medical cannabis industry.

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CREDIT: DrugPolicyAlliance/Youtube

“[T]his new regulation could be detrimental to people of every ethnic group who were pioneering entrepreneurs in California medical marijuana’s early days, when the legality of growing and selling medical marijuana was very much up in the air,” the group added.

Essentially, while marijuana legalization and the emerging retail marijuana industry are being hailed by activists as the end of racist drug laws, the double standards of the 1970s really aren’t going away completely. It could even be argued that modern social acceptance of marijuana, while a step in the right direction, remains more rooted in racism than it does tolerance — when marijuana use was a practice perceived as exclusive to the African-American community, it meant stigma, moral bankruptcy, and, of course, incarceration. Only as it spread to white communities did it gradually become socially acceptable and, today, a means to rake in millions.

Relevant to the short film’s claims is a 22-year-old interview in which top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman casually admitted that the War on Drugs was solely initiated to target black people and “the antiwar left,” published in Harper’s magazine in March.

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CREDIT: DrugPolicyAlliance/Youtube

“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,” Ehrlichman said. “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.”

The association of marijuana and black communities was meant to vilify them, but today, marijuana will bring white dealers wealth while black convicts remain trapped in a cycle of discrimination.

Despite nearly equal rates of marijuana usage among black and white Americans, the ACLU in 2012 found black people were arrested for marijuana offenses at disproportionately higher rates than white people (up to 10:1 in some counties). Similarly, The New York Times reported the national disparity in 2012 was 4:1. These statistics align with Jay Z’s assertions that arrest and citation rates in communities of color remain high, while white venture capitalists have transformed the drug into a legal business. And as the rapper points out, historically, where wealthy white investment bankers smoked cocaine openly without consequences, it was heavily associated with black communities ravaged by incarceration.

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CREDIT: DrugPolicyAlliance/Youtube

Today, even as marijuana is becoming not only legal but a profitable, socially acceptable business, ingrained racial double standards cast one group as criminals, and the other as businessmen.

Offering additional historical context, Jay Z also discusses how economic ills in poorer communities were blamed not on “Reaganomics” as, frankly, they should have been considering how Reagan’s policies defunded schools and ceased to offer critical resources and a social safety net. Instead, the blame was placed on drug use and sales, which, in many cases, were black people’s sole means for income.

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CREDIT: DrugPolicyAlliance/Youtube

“Today we imprison more people than any other country in the world — China, Russia, Iran, Cuba — all countries we consider autocratic and repressive,” Jay Z added, putting on full blast the hypocrisy of our nation’s discriminatory past and present, and repressive, economically senseless life sentences for possessing drugs.

Take a look at the video for yourself, below.

Jay Z ultimately regarded the drug war as an “epic fail,” noting that it failed even to achieve its ultimate goal of lowering rates of drug use, which remain where they were in the ’70s. The only difference is that prior to the drug war in 1971, 200,000 were imprisoned; today, 2.2 million are. And while marijuana legalization in more and more states is bound to slow mass incarceration’s disturbing rate of growth, its subtle, insidious ties to the drug war’s racist history remain.