One of the constant refrains we hear sung by the legalization movement is that when selling, possessing, and using marijuana is no longer a crime, then it will save the justice system a huge amount of time, energy, and money. Non-violent offenders will no longer clog up prisons, and people will no longer have arrests and convictions following them around just because they indulged in using some pot.
Generally speaking, that assumption has come true. According to Think Progress, arrests for marijuana went down by 60 percent in Colorado, and 90 percent in Washington. However, in both states there was still a huge factor which determined whether or not you were arrested… the melanin content of your skin.
Colorado Marijuana News: Racist Underpinnings of Prohibition Revealed
According to the reports, black people are twice as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana, even in states where it’s legal. This is despite the fact that the two groups use marijuana at roughly the same level.
While disappointing, this is by no means a surprise to those who’ve tracked the history of marijuana’s prohibition. You see, after the eighteenth amendment was undone, and alcohol was legal to make and drink again, the government set its sights on other controlled substances. Marijuana was high on the list, not because it was dangerous, but because it was the drug of choice for migrant laborers, African-Americans (especially those in the jazz circuit), and poor people. Making possession and use illegal meant that groups who used the drug more could have that used against them, keeping them locked up and under control.
While this attitude has been slowly changing for decades, as marijuana becomes more popular in the mainstream as well as for medical treatments, it seems that the old strategy of using it to control minorities is alive and well. The question we have to answer, now that legalization has shone a spotlight on this enforcement discrepancy, is what are we going to do about it?
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