By Rian Queen, Currier Times Contributor//
Niambe McIntosh, daughter of the late reggae music pioneer Peter Tosh, recently joined a Zoom call with Curry College assistant professor of criminal justice and sociology, Dr. Alan Grigsby. McIntosh, a cannabis rights and criminal justice reform activist, discussed why cannabis prohibition has been a big issue in the United States for much of the last century, and shared a painful personal story related to U.S. cannabis policy.
Grigsby began the interview looking for historical context. He asked, “For those people listening who don’t do this work, why is cannabis a justice issue?” McIntosh responded, “Cannabis has been used as a tool to target black and brown families for a very long time. Starting back in the 1920s and the 1930s … the head of the drug enforcement association, Harry Anslinger, was extremely racist. He actually was quoted saying that marijuana makes white women want to sleep with negro men. So the person who started the prohibition created the fabric of how the enforcement has been approached.”
McIntosh then shared the tragic story of her brother, Jawara McIntosh: “In 2013, my brother was arrested for cannabis possession in New Jersey. It was Father’s Day weekend, and he was held there for three months without a hearing. September of that year my family all came to support him during his hearing. … I thought this would be something that would just be behind us and so it wasn’t until then that we heard the prosecution offer a 20-year plea for his charge. … I was completely shocked. I was like, oh my goodness this is going to be something a little more difficult to get through. … Mind you, my brother has never been in the criminal justice system, he is a father of four, he is an activist, and he is a musician.”
She said that the prosecution kept lowering her brother’s plea deal as time passed.
“He’ll probably just end up doing about a year and we’ll just eventually be able to put this behind us,” she recalled thinking.
“So eventually my brother did take the plea in December of 2016 and in January of 2017, my brother turned himself in.” McIntosh paused for several seconds, holding back tears as she continued, “And a month later, he was attacked by another inmate. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and was unable to do anything for himself. On the day of the attack, we received a call from the hospital, not even from the jail, that the doctor needed to perform a lifesaving medical procedure on your brother, do we have authorization? We authorized the procedure and flew straight to New Jersey. When we arrived at the hospital, we initially weren’t even allowed to visit my brother. The hospital told us the prison has hierarchy, so we had to call and fight in order to just go in and visit him. He was in the surgical [intensive care unit] fighting for his life. … We were able to kind of see him, he had a neck brace on, his face was bruised, tubes down his throat, and he had a handcuff on his ankle, and he was surrounded by correctional officers. At that point I knew things had to change and that I would be living for a different reason and fighting for a different cause. … He stayed in that hospital for almost two months before we were able to have him moved to Brigham and Women’s in Boston and he stayed there for two years … and unfortunately in 2020, last year, he succumbed to his injuries.”
Several states have legalized marijuana in recent years, but there are still many people incarcerated for marijuana possession. Niambe McIntosh will continue to share her insights on America’s cannabis history, as well as her brother’s tragic story.