Why 420 Is A Protest Not A Party

Writer Jasmine Khan

1/5 people have smoked cannabis in their lifetime, that’s 20% of the population. And with cannabis being legalised in the land of (not so much) freedom and opportunity, as well as across Europe, why is it still illegal in the UK?

Well, the UK’s issues with cannabis, just like its issues with black and brown people, started long ago. British MP’s were already discrediting cannabis back in colonial times, without any real knowledge of the medical benefits. They said it made the Indian natives, a region which at the time hadn’t been spliced by western interests, lazy and unproductive. Unproductive for who sir, you?

Despite politician’s disgust for the naturally growing herb, the monarchy told a different story. Queen Victoria openly consumed cannabis for her menstrual cramps, with her doctor describing it as one of the ‘most valuable medicines’, and as early as 1843 medical papers in the UK reported on weed’s effectiveness when treating issues such as Cholera, joint-pain, and seizures.

In 1928, there was a blanket-ban placed on cannabis by the League of Nations. The USA’s history of cannabis prohibition is frankly horrific, although I won’t go into much detail here. For more information check out The Grass Is Greener, on Netflix. In short, politicians in America deliberately changed the name of cannabis in the mainstream media to marijuana in order to racialize it and associate it with Mexican people, further propaganda went on to associate it with black people and those considered anti-establishment like hippies. And unsurprisingly, heavy penalties followed suit.

Nevertheless, it’s important to mow your own grass first because the UK has its own shameful racist history in relation to cannabis.

In the 60’s and 70’s when the Windrush generation (migrants from Jamacia, Trinidad, Tobago and the surrounding islands) arrived on the shores of our not so great nation, they were met with hostility, to put it lightly, in many forms. One of which was their association with cannabis which was told by the government to be a madness inducing, paranoia provoking, highly-sedative drug.

By racializing cannabis to associate it with Britain’s new black population and inflating in to a Class B, rather than Class C substance, the government exercised unjustified control on the Windrush generation, and later South Asian migrants who arrived in the 80’s and beyond.

The rise in the cannabis’ ranking incurred an indefinite fine, a 5 year prison sentence for possession, and 14 years for supplying the drug.

With stop and search laws forever being enforced disproportionately, even though white people consume cannabis at the same rate as the rest of us, the impact on black and brown communities in the UK across the years has been unimaginable, but let’s try…

Already poor communities suffered indefinitely because of the unjustified stigmatisation governing bodies have placed on cannabis. Is weed harmful? Sometimes. Is it as harmful as alcohol, clearly not. And does it have far reaching medical benefits which could be of serious use to those who currently take opiates for pain? Yes.

So why is it illegal in the UK when the UK is the world’s biggest supplier of medical cannabis.

The hypocrisy is glaring us in the face and yet I’m still writing articles whilst boys in hoodies are being roughed up because they might smell like weed.

The benefits of legalisation or at least decriminalisation are present currently in Portugal, they’ve been present in The Netherlands for years. Its prohibition leads to a underground market which impacts citizens safety both through the environment and the quality of the product they purchase.

Ending prohibition would allow for a new wave of cultivators, ones who could create multi-generational streams of income from growing and supplying weed for medical and recreational purpose.

These people, those who are currently taking the risk to supply a growing market illegally, have the necessary expertise. But, instead of utilising their skills and benefiting the economy, we fine them, lock them up and drain taxpayers’ money. Not to mention horrifically negate their opportunities, potentially for life, with a criminal record.

We all know Rastafari tracks like Peter Tosh’s ‘Legalize it’ and Bob Marley’s ‘Kaya’, which speak on the medical benefits of cannabis and their plight to end prohibition in Jamaica, a limitation that was only implemented by the British Empire in 1913.

50% of people in the UK support weed legalization for recreational purposes, and 75% of people support its legalization for medical purposes. Yet, our institutions still use it as a means to police its non-white population.

420 isn’t a party, it’s a (peaceful) protest. The fight for legalisation cannot be separated from the fight for racial equality and our governments current crack-down is further evidence of its institutionalised racism, not that we needed more.

Look out for my interview with musicians Ruth Kokumo and Liam Mckeown, where we’ll be discussing 420 culture more in depth and you can hear their opinions on the importance of cannabis legalisation.

If you’re concerned about your cannabis use talk to FRANK: www.talktofrank.com/drug/cannabis

To see the Grass Is Greener, follow this link: www.netflix.com/title/80213712