This month we’re celebrating the contributions that the Black community has made to the legalization and social acceptance of cannabis. The racial disparities in cannabis policing and prohibition have disproportionately impacted the Black community compared to non-black counterparts, but the African-American influence over the cannabis community as we know it today, is undeniable.
Amidst the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, in addition to Speakeasies (where alcohol was discreetly served) there were “Tea Pads.”
Tea Pads were gatherings with live music and the social consumption of cannabis. With the Jazz Age in full swing, Tea Pad spaces, often in private residences, in which some form of marijuana was served to paying customers, often for only 25 cents a pop! Musicians were often barred from performing at local clubs simply for the color of their skin, so Tea Pads quickly became a staple service to receive both weed and entertainment.
The trend caught on in cities like New Orleans and Chicago; at one point it is believed that there were over 500 Tea Pads in Harlem, New York City alone!
St Louis Cotton Club Jazz Band
Famous Jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway were open about their cannabis consumption, and even mentioned it in their songs at times.
Louis Armstrong was even arrested for smoking a joint outside of a jazz club, and spent 9 days in jail. Although he was a longtime cannabis consumer and openly loved the plant, its legal consequences eventually caused Armstrong to allegedly put down the bud in his later years.
Some say because cannabis is known for its time-slowing effects, consumption among musicians’ caused them to change their perception of their own performances, allowing them to experiment creatively — playing with beats, sounds and rhythm with ease. Jazz, then, quickly became the hallmark of infectious, carefree music.
Louis Armstrong with Jazz Cigarette
Have you heard the term “jazz cigarette” before?
Jazz cigarette has since become a comedic term as time passed but the orgins are much more sinister. It’s a slang term that references a joint or blunt. The term was coined in the 1920s in jazz clubs and brothels where jazz musicians played.
Jazz artists would often claim that unlike whiskey or beer, weed allowed them to play long into the night without slowing down.
Nonetheless, prohibition persevered and jazz soon became synonymous with targeted communities.
While corporations are gunning for a multi-billion dollar industry, thousands of prisoners – many being people of color– await their freedom for nonviolent cannabis convictions.
It is vital that we make space for these individuals in our industry when they come home.
By Julia Ruiz
Julia Ruiz has worked in the cannabis space for 5 years, including political advocacy with the National Cannabis Industry Association, dispensary management, cannabis start-ups, marketing, and public relations. Julia is an outspoken advocate for safe patient access and policy reform, having been prosecuted for medical cannabis use in a since-legalized state.