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Saturday, June 3, 2023

The War on Weed Decimated My Community—Will There Be Restitution?

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I’m a Black high school student who goes to Brooklyn Tech. I’m from Harlem. School is interesting, with lots of different people from what I’m used to. I found a group of guys I think are my friends. We smoke at Fort Greene Park after school. I started selling weed when a white lady said we smelled good and was wondering if any of us could supply her with some. Now I buy a dub uptown to smoke half and sell the other half for a dub at school. I’ve never had my own money, so it’s cool.

I’m a Black twentysomething from the Bay in Cali. Being an actor on Broadway is what motivated me to move to New York City. I’m taking free acting gigs but hopefully I’ll get lucky and find one paying on Craigslist. It’s hard to be in the city alone, but I am gaining a network and found some people I can actually kick it with—through a means I had never imagined. My cousin got work, ridiculous amounts of work, and I’m a point of contact on the East Coast. So I’ve been making ends meet and meeting new people. It’s scary, but I have to live my dream.

All my life, I’ve seen Black faces making my city move like the people flickering past on a subway as it leaves the station. The bustling at the surface rides the undercurrent of the hustle right below it. Taking the 3 train from Rockaway Avenue to my first job, I’d watch all these Black people huddle, the look of the grind on their faces. I’d wonder where all of us would get off and what we’d do, no doubt in the posture of service. As we slid toward Manhattan, the car would begin to empty—a track worker at Atlantic Avenue, a 911 operator at Nevins Street, a nurse at Borough Hall, a janitor at Wall Street, a barista at 34th Street. I got off at 42nd Street—security guard.

As we scrambled to make our way in the city, many of us did other jobs too. On the books, off the books, some legal, some not, but no less legitimate for it. These jobs weren’t just the ones that white people didn’t want; they were the ones that white people had deemed illegal but whose benefits they were still happy to reap. You know the ones I’m talking about. They took different forms for different people, but for me, it always meant cannabis.

Weed has always been the purest of passions for me. It’s been different things at different junctures in my life—hobby, vocation, income—but it has always been my thing. In high school, I smoked with my buddy in Fort Greene Park. I met my first “Cali connect” answering a Craigslist ad. As far back as the early aughts, I remember taking the two-hour trips from Brownsville, deep in Brooklyn, up to Audubon Avenue in Washington Heights at the tip of Manhattan. At that time, Dominicans up there had the best haze in the city. The long trips didn’t stop there. I covered the country, and sometimes beyond, always in my search for the best.

Still, pure as my passion was, the fact of weed’s black-market status followed me. While anyone who spends time in a criminalized world faces some danger, that danger has always been magnified for Black people, warped out of all proportion by the racism of the American justice system. From the anti-”marihuana” craze of the 1930s to the brutality of the War on Drugs, Black and Afro-Latinx people have been harassed, frisked, arrested, and jailed for their association with cannabis. In my own home city, Black people have been arrested for low-level marijuana offenses at eight times the rate of their white counterparts.

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