Marijuana Prohibition Has Racist Roots
As the nation’s nearly 80-year history of pot prohibition slowly begins to crumble, starting with Colorado’s recent implementation of taxed and legalized recreational marijuana, critics of the increasingly popular policy shift are jumping to denounce the move. A number of white pundits and newspaper columnists have been among the most vocal, claiming that marijuana must remain illegal, despite their own prior use of it, because it supposedly makes people dumber.
The columns themselves served as the most persuasive evidence of that point. And while such a correlation between pot use and intelligence has yet to be proven, one must be willing to ignore the racist roots of marijuana prohibition and the manner in which this unjust system of anti-drug enforcement still plays out today to make such a shallow argument in the first place.
In a column for The Fix, Maia Szalavitz reminds us that Harry Anslinger, the father of the war on weed, fully embraced racism as a tool to demonize marijuana. As the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a predecessor to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Anslinger institutionalized his belief that pot’s “effect on the degenerate races” made its prohibition a top priority. Here are just a few of his most famous (and most racist) quotes:
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”
“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
Yes, you read that correctly.
Meanwhile, states throughout the south began implementing drug laws as part of the explicitly racist Jim Crow system, with southern lawmakers being quite open about the racist motivations behind the laws.
Sure, this was more than 75 years ago, but how much has actually changed today? The feds have stripped Anslinger’s offensive language from their official mission statements, but we are left with anti-drug policies that are hardly less racist in their application.
According to a 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union, blacks across the nation were nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, despite data that suggested they use the drug at about the same rate. In some states, blacks were up to six times more likely to be arrested. This disparity isn’t new, and plays into broader arrest data: A study published in the journal Crime & Delinquency this month found that by the age of 23, nearly 50 percent of black males have been arrested, compared to 44 percent of Hispanic males and 38 percent of white males.
In all, around 750,000 people are arrested for marijuana each year, with more than 650,000 of them for possession alone. (The U.S., of course, incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other nation in the world.)
The stats here are beyond disturbing, because lord knows these white folks burn as much kush as any other race of people.
Image via Shutterstock
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