Not More Marijuana Arrests, But More Investment in the Black Community.
(ThyBlackMan.com) The facts are beyond dispute. Blacks in every state are far more likely to be arrested for marijuana use than whites. They are more likely to be convicted, sentenced and serve jail time for marijuana possession. States spend a staggering near 4 billion dollars on enforcing the marijuana possession laws. At the same time, a majority of Americans now favor either decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana use. But the laws are still on the books in most states, and the federal government won’t budge in softening its stance on marijuana possession enforcement.
The price of federal intransigence, the state’s wild spending spree on enforcement, and the grotesque and glaring racial bias in the arrests and jailing for marijuana possession is that communities of color suffer the most. They suffer in terms of the imprisonment disparities, the criminalization and voter disenfranchisement of thousands of drug offenders, their loss of jobs and income from the arrests, the further destabilization of black families, and the deepening impoverisation of their communities. The answer is and always has been two-fold. One legalize the drug, and invest the billions of tax dollars squandered on enforcement in job, skills, training, education, family support and neighborhood services programs in poor black and Hispanic communities.
However, to push and prod state governments and the feds to change their mindset on drug use, and enforcement, and to re-channel the massive public resources blown on wasteful, fruitless arrests and jailing’s for marijuana and drug possession, one thing must come first. That’s to examine why the drug war started and continues.
More than 50 percent of those that are prosecuted in federal courts for drug possession and sale are given stiff mandatory sentences are blacks. Federal prosecutors and lawmakers in the past and some at present still justify the disparity with the retort that these drugs are dangerous and threatening, and lead to waves of gang shoot-outs, turf battles, and thousands of terrorized residents in poor black communities.
The majority, however, of those who deal and use drugs aren’t violent prone gang members, but poor, and increasingly female, young blacks. They clearly need treatment not long prison stretches.
The big difference is that the top-heavy drug use by young whites — and the crime and violence that go with it — has never stirred any public outcry for mass arrests, prosecutions, and tough prison sentences for white drug dealers, many of whom deal drugs that are directly linked to serious crime and violence. Whites unlucky enough to get popped for drug possession are treated with compassion, prayer sessions, expensive psychiatric counseling, treatment and rehab programs, and drug diversion programs. And they should be. But so should those Blacks and other non-whites victimized by discriminatory drug laws.
A frank admission that the drug laws are biased and unfair, and have not done much to combat the drug plague, would be an admission of failure. It could ignite a real soul searching over whether all the billions of dollars that have been squandered in the failed and flawed drug war — the lives ruined by it, and the families torn apart by the rigid and unequal enforcement of the laws — has really accomplished anything.
This might call into question why people use and abuse drugs in the first place — and if it is really the government’s business to turn the legal screws on some drug users while turning a blind eye to others?
The greatest fallout from the nation’s failed drug policy is that it has further embedded the widespread notion that the drug problem is exclusively a black problem. This makes it easy for on-the-make politicians to grab votes, garner press attention, and balloon state prison budgets to jail more black offenders, while continuing to feed the illusion that we are winning the drug war.
In an interview, former Attorney General Eric Holder on that point was blunt, “There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.” This is no accident. The policy deliberately targeted those communities due to a lethal mix of racism, criminal justice system profit (someone has got to fill up the cells to justify building more prisons, hiring and maintaining waves of corrections officers, and bloating state budgets in the process), political expediency, and media fed public mania over drug use. This is why Obama and Holder delicately, but to their credit, publicly inched toward a rethink of the drug war and who it benefits and who it hurts.
Now it’s time to go further, much, further, and join states such as Washington and Colorado that have legalized marijuana use. And states such as California where voters will decide on legalization in November. But that’s not enough. The vast sums they spend on enforcement must be invested in rebuilding communities of color, and that entails the participation by stakeholders in those communities in spotlighting and monitoring programs where and how the funds should be spent. The message: Not more arrests for pot, but more invest!
Written By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
One can find more info about Mr. Hutchinson over at the following site; TheHutchinson ReportNews.
Also feel free to connect with him through twitter; http://twitter.com/earlhutchins
He is also an associate editor of New America Media. His forthcoming book is From King to Obama: Witness to a Turbulent History (Middle Passage Press).