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General News    H4'ed 4/20/20

Wrong About Weed - Blacks & Marijuana Myths on 4/20

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Message Linn Washington

When New Jersey State Senator Ronald Rice helped roadblock legislation to legalize adult use of marijuana in the 'Garden State' last year he cited a litany of long debunked theories along with specious assertions like legalization will inundate minority communities with "marijuana bodegas."

The stance of Rice, an African American, contributed to defeat of efforts by New Jersey's Governor and civil rights organizations to end racial inequities related to marijuana laws, like pot possession arrest rates for blacks being much higher than arrests for whites despite similar usage rates among the races.

Eliminating documented racism in enforcement of marijuana laws is a key impetus in efforts nationwide to end the prohibition on pot. That prohibition is rooted in federal legislation initially approved in 1937. That legislation was the culmination of the 'Reefer Madness' campaign that contained clear strands of blatant racism.

An analysis released in November 2019 by ACLU-NJ stated blacks in New Jersey are three times more likely to face arrest for marijuana possession than whites. While that arrest factor is 2.3 higher for blacks in Senator Rice's legislative District, that disparity spikes as high as 11 times more likely in one legislative District and over 9 times more likely in two Districts adjacent to Rice's District.

That ACLU-NJ analysis noted a 35 percent increase in pot possession arrests across NJ between 2013 and 2017. Additionally, that study criticized the annual expenditure in New Jersey of more than $140 million for enforcement of anti-marijuana laws.

A 2017 ACLU-NJ study found that the New Jersey state legislative district with the highest per capita rate for marijuana possession arrests was the district represented by Rice: the 28th Legislative District. Rice's district contains portions of Newark, the state's largest city where Rice once worked as a policeman and served as a City Councilman and Deputy Mayor.

Racial inequities embedded in marijuana law enforcement and now economic-related inequities surrounding the legalized medical/adult-use markets are well documented.

Politicians, police, prosecutors and media pundits have, historically, played prominent roles in resistance to reforms in pot prohibition. And, historically, the stereotypical public face of that resistance has been conservative and white. However, frequently overlooked in societal support for keeping marijuana illegal are 'black faces.'

Many black politicians, preachers and other leaders through either advocacy or acquiesce have opposed marijuana law reform despite irrefutable evidence that pot prohibition has bludgeoned the black community leaving millions with arrest records that cripple economic and educational opportunities. Compounding the damage from arrest records is the added burden for some of having endured incarceration for marijuana law violations where imprisonment carries a separate lifetime stigma.

NJWeedman, one of America's foremost black legalization activists, said he's been "bitched at" repeatedly by some blacks for calling out scores of black leaders for their complicity in sustaining anti-cannabis actions. NJWeedman sees big problems with black leaders who support expenditure of tax dollars to fund salaries for predominately white law enforcement that cracks down on black taxpayers while too often ignoring marijuana use and sale by whites. The legalization advocacy of NJWeedman has led to years of imprisonment.

Philadelphia, Pa is 33-miles south of the NJ's State Capitol Building in Trenton where Senator Rice and a few other blacks were among the legislators that scuttled the marijuana legalization effort in March 2019.

In Philadelphia, during the two terms Michael Nutter served mayor (2008-2015), city police arrested over 20,000 blacks for marijuana possession, leaving those predominately male arrestees with the lifetime stigma of arrest records.

In 2012, the first year of second mayoral term of Nutter, an African American, Philadelphia police arrested 3,052 blacks for pot possession compared to just 629 whites. That arrest disparity was partly attributable to the racial profiling Stop-&-Frisk police enforcement championed by Nutter and implemented by Nutter's Police Commissioner who was also an African American.

In 2010 when Californians were deliberating an ultimately unsuccessful ballot measure to legalize marijuana, a coalition of black ministers demanded the resignation of California's NAACP president because of her support for legalization. That NAACP head saw legalization as a civil rights issue due to gross racial disparities in pot law enforcement.

In 1975 black political and religious leaders successfully stopped an effort on the City Council of Washington, DC to decriminalize possession of marijuana. Arrests of blacks for possession in DC had soared from 334 in 1968 to 3,002 in 1975. One black minister who was a DC City Councilman feared the city would become the marijuana "capital of the world" with decriminalization while a black DC City Councilwoman demanded that young people "be taught to obey the law."

The mayor of DC in 1975, Walter Washington, also opposed decriminalization. This stance by Washington, an African American, opposed conclusions of the marijuana study commission that Washington appointed in 1972. That commission, after a year-long examination, recommended in March 1973 that marijuana be "decriminalized." That commission had determination no "demonstrable medical evidence" showed that marijuana "is detrimental to the health of the user."

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Linn Washington is a co-founder of This Can't Be Washington writes frequently on inequities in the criminal justice system, ills in society and problems in the news media. He teaches multi-media urban journalism at Temple (more...)

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