Commentary: The smell of marijuana and the stain of racismPosted by On

Advocates are pressing for a bill that would remove marijuana odor as the basis for reasonable suspicion for a police investigation. photo by Alixandria Chen.

By Yanet Amanuel and Dana Vickers Shelley

The writers are public policy director and executive director, respectively, of the ACLU of Maryland.


“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people. You understand what I’m saying? 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. 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.” — John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s former aide.

This intentional smear framing and more than 50 years of propaganda spewed by the media and politicians has not only allowed law enforcement to unfairly target and criminalize Black people, but it has also seeped deep into our subconscious: the idea that Black people are inherently criminal. Understanding this, we must be intentional about unlearning and rejecting this notion.

As of July 1, 2023, marijuana will be legal in Maryland. There is no reason why the odor of a legal substance should…

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