OSU’s Braxton-Franklin: Changing Discussion on Cannabis

Despite a cultural and legal shift in the past ten years, cannabis use still carries a stigma, unlike its unofficial counterpart — alcohol. This stigma is perpetuated by carefully crafted wording, cultural campaigns, and the War on Drugs — and one OSU faculty member aims to change that. 

In an interview with The Daily Barometer, OSU’s alcohol and drug prevention specialist Nikia Braxton-Franklin spoke on the history of cannabis and how it may change in the near future.   

While the things she does are many, Braxton-Franklin’s work is starting with student outreach and an effort to change the way that we talk about cannabis. Just as with many other drugs, discussion around cannabis has been racialized through the term ‘marijuana.’   

“The term marijuana causes harm and further oppresses already vulnerable community members,” said Braxton-Franklin.  

And it’s true – according to NPR’s Code Switch, cannabis being coined ‘marijuana’ was a purposeful move of the federal government. By associating the drug with Mexico and its inhabitants, it took a racially divided country and used that division to further widen the gap.   

By associating cannabis with a minority group in the country, just as was done with heroin to target “activists and hippies,” it allowed the War on Drugs a foothold in minority communities. A foothold that has unequally affected people of color.   

In fact, according to the ACLU, “despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.”  

The first step to counteract this move, according to Braxton-Franklin, is to change the language we use when talking about cannabis. Changing the name of the drug back to its actual name, cannabis, will help in several ways.  

Firstly, it will remove the racially charged word from daily conversation — which will hopefully alter the way people think of the drug. Additionally, it will help destigmatize cannabis if the federal government goes through with the plan laid out in H.R. 365, also known as the Marijuana 1-to-3 Act, which is currently awaiting approval before Congress.  

The bill in question would move cannabis from its current status as a schedule one drug on par with heroin and LSD down to a schedule three drug — similar to Tylenol with codeine or testosterone. This would simultaneously decrease the severity of cannabis arrests’ punishments and help put it more on par with the actual seriousness of the drug’s effects.  

Braxton-Franklin would like to advocate for programs that would allow expungement of current cannabis possession convictions, as well as social equity programs. In other words, she aims to counteract the work that the federal government has done for years to unequally punish minority communities.  

While Braxton-Franklin admits that there’s a great amount of work to do yet, things are looking up. She’s worked on programs such as the Higher Awareness Campaign, the Social Norms Campaign, and was recently selected for the CDC’s Public Health – Train in Place Program. All of which have or will result in positive change for the OSU community.  

By Ethan Hauck