Is Pot Legalization For White People?

Claiming that the major pot advocacy groups consist of “white, privileged and devoted marijuana smokers” who have “largely ignored” issues of race, research psychologist Carl Hart calls for the movement “to break [its] silence on this issue and make racial justice a central part of the fight against pot prohibition”:

[C]onsider a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union showing that black people are two to over seven times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than their white counterparts, despite the fact that both groups use marijuana at similar rates. These disparities held up even when researchers controlled for household income. It’s about race, not class.

As a neuropsychopharmacologist who has spent the past fifteen years studying the neurophysiological, psychological and behavioral effects of marijuana, I find this particular effect of pot prohibition most disturbing. Each year, there are more than 700,000 marijuana arrests, which account for more than half of all drug arrests. And now, largely because of the selective targeting of African-American males, one in three black boys born today will spend time in prison if we don’t take action to end this type of discrimination.

David Simon agrees with most of Hart’s analysis but balks at that last sentence:

One in three African-American boys born today will be imprisoned at some point not because of marijuana enforcement, but because of the entirety of the drug war — and only by dealing with all of drug enforcement and its subtext of racial and class control will that trend ever abate, much less be reversed.

In fact, he argues that legalization could, perversely, “consign increasingly isolated poor people of color to the brutalities of the drug war”:

Yes, marijuana is among the least dangerous prohibited substances in the drug world. Yes, any continuing criminal arrests for its use are dysfunctional and draconian. Yes, as with any drug law, such arrests target people of color disproportionately. But accept as well that marijuana is also the most basic and fundamental place where white, middle-class and affluent America intersects with the drug war. It is the place where many, many white families of economic means and political relevance encounter even the most moderate risk to their status and future. For the majority of that cohort, it is the only place where the drug war’s rubber actually hits any stretch of suburban blacktop.

Of course, it is impossible to argue against the immediate practicalities of liberalizing marijuana use and reducing the criminal penalties such. In a country with our levels of alcohol use, no one should be incarcerated or even criminally arrested for smoking weed. But in so liberalizing this single sphere of our national drug war, the actual political isolation of the poor, and of poor people of color especially, will actually deepen. Having removed much of the white, middle-class interaction with drug enforcement from the equation, those who are championing marijuana reform and ignoring the overall disaster of the drug war will be perpetuating the fundamental and continuing injustice.

Money quote from Bill Maher’s epic rant against prohibition seen above:

But this isn’t about me. It’s about the three-quarters of a million people who are arrested for simple possession every year. And the fact that blacks are arrested at seven times the rate of whites. Which is a subtle way to suppress the black vote, because 48 states limit voting rights for convicted felons. Only two states do not: Maine and Vermont. And Maine’s black population consists of a bear.