On 4/20, Feminist Conversations Shift to the War on Drugs

On 4/20, Feminist Conversations Shift to the War on Drugs
Over 61 percent of federally incarcerated women were charged with nonviolent drug offenses—and Black women, Native American women and Latinas more likely to serve time than their white counterparts. (Branson ‘Breaking the Taboo’ on drugs/ YouTube)

This year on 4/20 Day, cannabis-enthusiasts everywhere will celebrate without their buds, from the comfort of their homes.

But as many Americans consume cannabis without worry, misogyny and racism prevent minority communities from enjoying the holiday—as they have since the beginning of the War on Drugs in the 1970s.

Intersectional feminism and the War on Drugs are two inherently-tied social movements, though perhaps not obvious at first glance. 

Over 61 percent of federally incarcerated women were charged with nonviolent drug offenses—and Black women, Native American women and Latinas more likely to serve time than their white counterparts, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. These statistics persist despite the fact that “whites are nearly five times as likely as Blacks to use marijuana and three times as likely as Blacks to have used crack,” according to University of Michigan’s Andrea Ritchie.

The War on Drugs broadly continues to disproportionately attack and overpower women, as shown by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) report, “Feminist Movements and Women Resisting the War on Drugs.”

“‘Coming out’ as a woman who uses drugs can be extremely dangerous to the safety and wellbeing of the woman and all those depending on her care —one heightened risk, for instance, is the loss of parental rights,” the report read. 

AWID’s research also emphasized the attack on women drug users’ bodily autonomy—connecting to pro-abortion advocacy—experiences with violence, and unfair treatment in healthcare spaces. 

In 2019, February more than 40 women from Europe and Asia met in Barcelona to work together on intersectional feminism, drug policy, harm reduction and human rights. Signed by over 160 groups across the globe on International Women’s Day in 2019, the Barcelona Declaration is a unified feminist initiative that attempts to combat the War on Drugs.

“Despite living with these and other multiple forms of violence daily, Womxn Fighting back Against the War On Drugs are resourceful, enterprising, creative and strong,” reads a portion of the Barcelona Declaration. “We do not ask for charity but for solidarity. We demand to live in safety and freedom.”

For poor women, especially poor women of color, police target them according to the “broken windows” theory. 

“If signs of disorder (like broken windows) and minor offenses (like loitering, panhandling and graffiti) are left unchecked, then it’s only a matter of time before a community descends into chaos and violence,” Ritchie explains.

This assumes that criminals will fall down a legal slippery slope.

“This reality requires that we pay particular attention to how controlling narratives inform broad exercises of police discretion and fuel police stops, harassment, violence, extortion, and arrests of women of color in the context of broken windows policing across the country,” Ritchie wrote. 


Politicians, activist organizations, and marijuana companies alike have used 4/20 as an excuse and defense for unfair incarceration rates.

In fact, one of Richard Nixon’s top advisers recently admitted that the War on Drugs was created as a political tool to fight minorities and anti-war hippies.

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people,” former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman told Harper’s writer Dan Baum.

“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.”

So, on this holiday, cannabis use reminds the nation about the power-hungry, patriarchal, racist nature of the War on Drugs.

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-movingDuring this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.


Fiona is a journalism student at the University of Southern California. When not in the office nor in class, she is often found photographing her friends, attending local concerts and eating sourdough toast.