The legalization of marijuana in Washington state and Colorado, on the surface, seems like forward progression in the war on drugs, but that will not be the case for Black America.
In an in-depth analysis for the Washington Post, Dr. Stacey Patton, senior enterprise reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Dr. David J. Leonard, associate professor and chairman of the department of critical culture, gender and race studies at Washington State University, show why the new law just reinforces the same old racism embedded in our society and judicial system.
What’s happening in Washington and Colorado isn’t a shift so much as a formalization of what has long been a reality: If you’re white, you can do drugs with relative impunity. No one law or state initiative will be the nail in the coffin of America’s failed war on drugs — and sadly, black and Latino Americans will continue to get locked up while others are getting high.
According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, there were 8 million marijuana arrests in the United States from 2001 to 2010. These arrests were anything but colorblind: Eighty-eight percent were for possession, a crime for which black Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested than whites. While white and black Americans use marijuana at roughly similar rates — though whites ages 18 to 25 consistently surpass their black peers — arrest rates are nowhere near comparable. As of 2005, according to the American Bar Association, African Americans represented 14 percent of drug users (and of the population as a whole), yet accounted for 34 percent of all drug arrests and 53 percent of those sent to prison for a drug offense.
It is not a coincidence that marijuana has been decriminalized in Washington and Colorado, but not in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Iowa, Pennsylvania, California, Indiana or Louisiana — the seven states with the highest rates of incarcerated black men.
No, it is not coincidence at all. It appears that the “end” of the war on Black people drugs merely further perpetuates white supremacy, targeting Black and Brown people while raking in profits for the state.