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The Racist Nature of Marijuana Arrests

Surveys have long shown that black and white people use, buy and sell marijuana at pretty much identical levels, but the numbers of arrests, convictions and incarceration has long been wildly disparate. Adam Serwer published this chart that demonstrates this for the last few years:

marijuana

The result of this is that wealthy drug users get off with almost nothing while poor minorities are herded into a permanent underclass:

According to the report, there were more than 8 million marijuana-related arrests between 2001 and 2010, almost 90% of which were for possession. Marijuana arrests now make up more than half of all drug arrests in the country. And use of the drug has only increased over time.

As Michelle Alexander notes in her book, The New Jim Crow, the consequences of being convicted of felony marijuana possession can be far more dire than the sentence itself. Former offenders can find themselves deprived of professional or driver’s licenses, educational aid, food stamps, public housing, their right to vote, and they may find themselves fired and unable to find new employment, having been marked by society as little more than a criminal. For blacks caught up in the system it can compound the already considerable effects of ongoing racial discrimination.

Yet with their own acknowledged marijuana use our current and former presidents, as well as our well-respected newspaper columnists, are implicitly acknowledging that mere marijuana use does not make you a criminal who should be driven from society and made a pariah, it does not consign you to fate as an addlepated dunce or violent sociopath incapable of holding a job or raising a family. Would that the worst consequence for marijuana use was something resembling Brooks’ recollection of a botched attempt to deliver a presentation in English class while stoned. Legalization means that other people, not just elites and their children, can have the opportunity to shrug off past drug use as a youthful dalliance rather than a life sentence.

President Obama used to smoke pot. Neither he nor the country would be better off if he had been arrested and jailed.

Comments

  1. colnago80 says

    President Obama used to smoke pot. Neither he nor the country would be better off if he had been arrested and jailed.

    Oh, I think that a number of the Tea Partiers would think otherwise.

  2. D. C. Sessions says

    Now that the Children of the Sixties are retiring, it’s time to add loss of Social Security and Medicare to the penalties for drug convictions.

    Stop laughing.

  3. eric says

    Legalization means that other people, not just elites and their children, can have the opportunity to shrug off past drug use as a youthful dalliance rather than a life sentence.

    To some elites, I suspect that’s a bug not a feature. I suspect that some people would very much like a system whereby the state can visit draconian punishments on the people they don’t like for just about any reason, while they remain practically untouchable. Harsh penalties many arbitrary things on the books + expensive lawyers that can prevent those penalties for those that can hire them = that system.

  4. says

    Back when England had prohibition, those who made and drank bathtub gin (i.e. the poor) were targeted regularly by the cops. Those who drank wine (i.e. the rich) were unmolested.

    Details may change, but the hypocrisy remains the same.

  5. D. C. Sessions says

    Harsh penalties many arbitrary things on the books + expensive lawyers that can prevent those penalties for those that can hire them = that system.

    Why spend money on lawyers when all it takes is a phone call to a friend to get things taken care of? At most, regular campaign contributions are cheap insurance — with many other benefits.

  6. smrnda says

    The war on drugs is one of the biggest wastes of money and human lives around as a public policy issue. Drug use is no big deal. It’s always been about racism – laws were specifically passed against *smoking opium* in the past as a means of criminalizing the Chinese population by targeting their drug of choice. Drug laws are always enforced in a capricious and arbitrary fashion, and perhaps they’ve only been pushed against much lately as a few white people have been busted for it.

    Personally, we need to decriminalize all drugs, and we need to stop regarding drug use as a moral issue, or even a medical one much of the time.

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