California has received praise lately for its legalization of recreational marijuana, the ninth state to do so, including the District of Columbia. While this is a step forward and makes the concept of recreational weed being legalized federally more realistic, there is an issue. And no, I’m not referring to Jeff Session’s adamant anti-weed stance that is preventing federal legalization.
I’m talking about 587,700 people being arrested. Their crime? Marijuana possession. According to the Washington Post, this is a number larger than murder, rape, aggravated and sexual assault combined.
This is not new data, but one that has been building up for quite a while. According to the ACLU, over 7 million people were arrested for owning pot from 2001 to 2010.
Something else that should be noted? White people and black people smoke weed around roughly the same amount.
If this is the case, why are black Americans arrested and jailed at a larger scale than white Americans? Getting life sentence without parole for selling pot?
The short answer is racism. The long answer begins with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, when the bill declared that smoking marijuana makes black men feel equal to white men, seduces white women and provides effects that makes black men act differently. This racism worsened in the 1970s. Known as the War on Drugs, President Richard Nixon enforced a strict act called the Controlled Substance Act that declared substances could be highly dangerous and addictive and should be monitored. Marijuana was one of the drugs deemed most dangerous with minimal medical benefits despite evidence saying otherwise.
How is this racist? President Nixon’s domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman was quoted in an interview 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.”
As Nixon’s War on Drugs quietly died down, it never died out. It influenced the public to perceive people of color as more likely to abuse substances and be inferior to white people. This dehumanizing mindset is something that is still around in 2018. A Kansas representative stated recently that black people are genetically more likely to act worse on drugs and therefore marijuana should be illegal.
While I’m rooting for nationwide legalization, we need to have more awareness on how black lives are being negatively impacted by the marijuana business. Kudos to California for stepping up, but until America recognizes the connection between weed and racism, we’re not really moving forward.