Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy (PhD)

Degree Level



Political Science


Anna Zajicek

Committee Member

Brinck Kerr

Second Committee Member

Valerie Hunt


discourse analysis, marijuana, Public policy, racism, social construction


This research focuses on different aspects of the co-construction African Americans and marijuana in the news. First, the historical background of modern drug laws, including marijuana prohibition, and how this was dependent on racialized fears in the wake of the abolition of slavery. Next, the prevalence and variety of marijuana constructions in a national newspaper, with careful attention paid to associations with racial identifiers. Finally, how African American athletes and marijuana are co-constructed in an exemplary article.

Chapter 2 describes how racial fears relate to the social construction of disadvantaged population in the media. We first describe the current situation in which African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated for drug crimes. Then, we briefly review the history of drug policy in the US and describe how it was dependent on slave-era beliefs and thus became a model of institutional racism. Finally, we relate this situation to research from various fields, including sociology, media studies, politics and discourse in order to show the justifications for the proceeding research project. Due to the changing landscape of marijuana policy in the US, but a continuation of racially disproportional punishment for marijuana use, Chapter 3 was designed to assess current constructions of marijuana in the news. Specifically, the use of fear-based discourse in the co-construction race and the three general categories of marijuana policy. The results of the analysis confirmed that African American men are associated with marijuana in disproportional numbers and that fear-based discourse and imagery are the primary characteristics of this discourse. Interestingly, this analysis also found a potentially unique construction in which both criminal and medical marijuana policy constructions were associated with African American athletes Chapter 4 is a critical analysis of an article exemplifying this frame. The results of this analysis are discussed in the context of hegemonic power relations in the US, racialized discourse, and marijuana policy alternatives. Chapter 5 is a discussion of the conclusions generated from this research as a whole, including implications for marijuana policy and future research.