President Barack Obama admits to inhaling. President Bill Clinton says he didn’t. These facts are thrown in at the beginning of this enlightening documentary that I was able to screen before Crusader press time. It is narrated by hip hop artist Nasir “Nas” Jones, who says about marijuana: “I never saw it as a bad thing. Weed is in my music because it’s in my world.”
“Smoke” explores Black America’s complex relationship with marijuana and the current fight to reap the benefits of legalization. The documentary premiered earlier this week on BET, and I’m confident that it will air again.
Produced by Swirl Films, “Smoke” features interviews with Senator Kamala D. Harris, Senator Cory Booker, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, former NBA player Al Harrington, WNBA star Cheyenne Parker, rapper Ty Dolla $ign, and Columbia University Professor Carl Hart, among others.
It examines marijuana’s cultural, social, economic and legal impact on American society and the Black community. Early usage was recreational in nature, but political and racial dynamics led to the criminalization of cannabis and eventually its prohibition. This war on drugs systematically targeted Blacks, resulting in racially disproportionate numbers of arrests and convictions.
Now, high-profile lawmakers are fighting to bring restorative justice to those incarcerated and others saddled with felony convictions. The tragic story of Corvain Cooper, a father who is serving a life sentence for selling marijuana in the same neighborhood where legal dispensaries now operate in the open, is highlighted.
While the legal cannabis industry is expected to generate $30 billion in sales by 2025, only 4.3 percent of dispensaries are currently Black owned, and fewer than 1 percent of the licenses so far have been awarded to Black or Latino owners in a booming legal cannabis industry that is currently dominated by white-owned conglomerates and entrepreneurs.
The “Music and the Messengers” segment discussed how in the 70s, Black people and hippies were weed consumers. Afterward the “stoner culture” arose with Cheech and Chong’s films that Nas says were influential because now rappers who may have been smoking weed were referencing these films in their songs.
Ty Dolla $ign says that, “I just like smoking weed. It keeps me focused. I see the light.” Nas echoed that sentiment: “Music and marijuana go together real well. I spent my time getting nice on weed so I have to rap about it,” as he mentioned the songs of that time by Dr. Dre, Funkadelic and Rick James.
Blacks’ and whites’ marijuana consumption reportedly is about the same, but Blacks are four times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges.
In “The War on Weed” segment, Professor Hart shared that the Declaration of Independence was printed on hemp, which is the plant origin of marijuana. “It only became illegal because brown people were using it. The film ‘Reefer Madness’ had warnings that weed would make you go crazy.”
In “Seeing Green,” economics were discussed. Folks were going from street dealing to dispensary ownership if they were fortunate enough. Harrington got into the weed industry on the West Coast after he noticed his grandmother suffered from glaucoma and the positive effects that it had on her condition. He talked about social equity. “We [Blacks] pioneered the industry that is now being taken advantage of [business wise] by people who don’t look like us.” A Los Angeles cannabis regulator Cat Packer said: “Cannabis licensing won’t repair all the harm that’s been done. It’s one step that the government can take to address previous harm.”
The “High Flying Athletes” segment discussed weed use within the sports arena, and Chicago Sky’s Parker opined that mental stress and anxiety that the women face in the WNBA could be alleviated if medicinal marijuana were exempt from drugs that violate league rules.
Finally, the “Waiting to Exhale” segment discussed the need for the legalization of recreational marijuana. Vice President-elect Harris defended her record as a Senator: I committed my career to correct things that were harmful to the community, and we need to legalize marijuana use.” Booker added: “Marijuana in our country is always legal for privileged people. This is not about jokes and laughs, getting high and eating brownies. We must end this prohibition in a restorative justice way. It’s life or death for millions of America’s livelihoods, families and children.”
Former Illinois State Senator Toi Hutchinson said: “It’s very difficult to see all white people making millions and millions of dollars on the things that destroyed our whole communities.”
Nas had the best “wrap-up” advice regarding what he believes is the reason for an interest in making recreational marijuana use legal: “America needs the money now, and we have to take advantage of what’s happening in the weed business.”
For more information about On Demand options also, visit BET.com and follow them @bet and @betnews across social media.