Newsflash:
Issues End Corporate Rule End Mass Criminalization Pot Reform’s Race Problem
Sunday, 10 November 2013 18:12

Pot Reform’s Race Problem

Written by  Carl Hart | The Nation
Pot Reform’s Race Problem Doug Chayka

Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton all acknowledge illicit marijuana use in their younger years. Of the three, who do you suppose was most at risk for arrest and all of the associated negative consequences, including truncating his political aspirations?

To most Americans, the answer is clear: the black guy, of course. For those for whom the answer is less obvious, consider a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union showing that black people are two to over seven times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than their white counterparts, despite the fact that both groups use marijuana at similar rates. These disparities held up even when researchers controlled for household income. It’s about race, not class.

As a neuropsychopharmacologist who has spent the past fifteen years studying the neurophysiological, psychological and behavioral effects of marijuana, I find this particular effect of pot prohibition most disturbing. Each year, there are more than 700,000 marijuana arrests, which account for more than half of all drug arrests. And now, largely because of the selective targeting of African-American males, one in three black boys born today will spend time in prison if we don’t take action to end this type of discrimination. The gravity of this situation contributed to Attorney General Eric Holder’s remarks about mass incarceration, which he described as “a kind of decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.”

Throughout its study of marijuana, the scientific community has ignored this shameful marijuana-related effect. There are virtually no articles in the scientific literature addressing it. One possible reason is that the National Institutes of Health has not made it a priority to understand or prevent racial discrimination, even though the devastating impact of racism on health is well documented. The NIH, specifically the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), funds no less than 90 percent of the world’s research on marijuana. If that doesn’t include studies on race, then the research is not likely to be done. 

Another reason for this blind spot is that the researchers themselves are overwhelmingly nonblack and thus shielded from this kind of segregation. The luxury afforded to scientists as a result of working in a racially homogeneous field is apathy and willful ignorance, while the price paid by black people is high rates of arrest and incarceration.

The NIDA could help remedy this situation by requesting research applications that focus explicitly on race—for example, trying to understand the long-term consequences of marijuana arrests on black people, especially as they relate to disrupting one’s life trajectory. 

Apathy about pot arrest racism is not unique to scientists. The major marijuana-law reform organizations, such as the Marijuana Policy Project and NORML, have also largely ignored this obvious injustice. About a month ago, I appeared on a Pacifica radio station in Washington, DC, with a director from one such group, who said: “We know there [are] stop-and-frisk policies and so forth that are terribly racially discriminatory, but we’re looking at the big picture of public health.” In his view, the racist enforcement of marijuana laws was not a “big picture” item. The more pressing issue, he explained, is correcting the erroneous belief that marijuana is a “gateway drug” to “harder” substances. I had to exercise a great deal of restraint as I listened incredulously to this person dismiss the grave injustice being perpetrated against black people.

But then I considered the racial composition of his and similar organizations. From their rank and file to their advisory boards, the membership consists almost exclusively of white, privileged and devoted marijuana smokers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se, but it helped me understand why racial equality is not a central priority for them. Most of these individuals would like to light up without fear of personal legal consequences—a self-interested goal that could make it difficult to empathize with those who are actually vulnerable to racially motivated marijuana law enforcement. Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. came to a similar conclusion in a Birmingham jail as he struggled to understand the apathy of his white fellow clergymen to the plight of their black brothers and sisters. “I guess I should have realized,” he wrote, “that few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those who have been oppressed, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.” 

There are exceptions, however. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), a relatively more racially diverse organization, has committed itself not only to reforming marijuana laws, but also to opposing all drug laws that selectively target people of color. Based in New York City, it played a vital role in dismantling the infamous Rockefeller drug laws and in bringing attention to the New York Police Department’s racist stop-and-frisk policy. 

I should note that I am a current DPA board member. This is less an acknowledgment of conflict or bias than it is evidence to support my point. In 2007, the DPA had two black board members—at least twice as many as other similar organizations. Concerned that this number was still too low, the leadership asked me to join the board. I accepted because the DPA understands that having a token black board member as window dressing is insufficient to effect the type of necessary change I have laid out here.

Combating racially discriminatory marijuana arrest practices will require a team effort across a variety of communities—scientific, advocacy and so on—and it is in this spirit of a shared purpose that I write. But perhaps I can be forgiven for my impatience with organizations that claim to be allies in this fight while also displaying blatant apathy concerning this issue. You see, I am the father of three black sons. I recognize that there is a high probability that they, like their white counterparts, may one day experiment with marijuana. Knowing the potential consequences if they are arrested, I cannot afford to remain silent.

I call on our allies to break their silence on this issue and make racial justice a central part of the fight against pot prohibition. The next generation is counting on you.

Link to original article from The Nation

Read 2363 times Last modified on Sunday, 10 November 2013 18:18

End Corporate Rule

  • Bernie Sanders Raises Battle Cry Against Citizens United: "I Vote for Democracy!"
    Bernie Sanders Raises Battle Cry Against Citizens United: "I Vote for Democracy!"

    Citizens United is not just the default reference for US Supreme Court decisions—including the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling—that have ushered in a new era of corporate dominance of American elections. It’s the name of the conservative group that encouraged Chief Justice John Roberts and the most activist Court majority in American history to tear the heart out of what were already weak campaign finance laws.

    Written on Sunday, 13 April 2014 04:24 Read more...
  • Local protests held in response to Supreme Court donation ruling
    Local protests held in response to Supreme Court donation ruling

    PITTSFIELD -- Their signs read "Get Big Money Out of Politics," "Democracy Is Not For Sale" and "This Is What Plutocracy Looks Like." About a dozen of them stood in Park Square on Wednesday evening, one of 130 "rapid response events" coordinated nationwide to protest that morning's Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC.    

    Written on Friday, 04 April 2014 14:38 Read more...
  • With McCutcheon Ruling, An Activist Court Opts for Full-On Plutocracy
    With McCutcheon Ruling, An Activist Court Opts for Full-On Plutocracy

    Any doubts about the determination of an activist United States Supreme Court to rewrite election rules so that the dollar matters more than the vote were removed Wednesday, when McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission was decided in favor of the dollar.

    Written on Wednesday, 02 April 2014 22:24 Read more...
  • TPM Interview: The Brown Grad Student Who Chased The NRA Out Of Rhode Island
    TPM Interview: The Brown Grad Student Who Chased The NRA Out Of Rhode Island

    Sam Bell is in the third year of a PhD program in geology at Brown University. Geology as in rocks. But Bell also moonlights as the the state coordinator of The Rhode Island Progressive Democrats, the state affiliate of the 10-year-old Progressive Democrats of America. And in his work with The Rhode Island Progressive Democrats, Bell was instrumental to the investigation that ultimately led to the National Rifle Association paying the second largest campaign finance fine in the state's history.

    Written on Thursday, 27 February 2014 22:13 Read more...
  • Thank a Postal Worker This Holiday Season
    Thank a Postal Worker This Holiday Season

    Postal workers are giving it their all this holiday season, as cards and packages and returns must be collected and delivered amidst ice storms, snowstorms and wild temperature drops.

    They deserve our thanks in 2013.

    And our support in 2014.

    Written on Thursday, 26 December 2013 23:49 Read more...
  • Fast Food Giants Gorge on Subsidies
    Fast Food Giants Gorge on Subsidies

    Thanks to a loophole that subsidizes CEO pay, McDonald's, Yum Brands, Wendy's, Burger King, Domino's, and Dunkin' Brands trimmed $64 million from their tax bills in 2011 and 2012.

    The fast food industry is notorious for handing out lean paychecks to their burger flippers and fat ones to their CEOs. What’s less well-known is that taxpayers are actually subsidizing fast food incomes at both the bottom — and top — of the industry.

    Written on Monday, 02 December 2013 23:07 Read more...
  • This Thanksgiving, Let's Celebrate AgriCULTURE, Not AgriBUSINESS
    This Thanksgiving, Let's Celebrate AgriCULTURE, Not AgriBUSINESS

    In December 1972, I was part of a nationwide campaign that came tantalizingly close to getting the U.S. Senate to reject Earl Butz, Richard Nixon's choice for secretary of agriculture. A coalition of grass-roots farmers, consumers and scrappy public interest organizations (like the Agribusiness Accountability Project that Susan DeMarco and I then headed) teamed up with some gutsy, unabashedly progressive senators to undertake the almost impossible challenge of defeating the cabinet nominee of a president who'd just been elected in a landslide.

    Written on Friday, 29 November 2013 00:06 Read more...
  • Arizona Democratic Party Shows Its Progressive Side at State Committee Meeting
    Arizona Democratic Party Shows Its Progressive Side at State Committee Meeting

    Progressive voices were heard loud and clear at Saturday’s Arizona Democratic Party (ADP) State Committee Meeting in Maricopa, Arizona.

    Unlike some past ADP meetings where progressives were ignored or where progressive resolutions were tabled and not heard by the full ADP membership, the Maricopa meeting was dominated by progressives.

    Written on Monday, 18 November 2013 20:09 Read more...
  • Can Public Banking Spur Economic Growth in Southern Arizona?
    Can Public Banking Spur Economic Growth in Southern Arizona?

    Tucson is one of the most impoverished cities in the country—for many reasons. The Arizona Legislature—driven by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and short-sighted, “small government” ideology—has routinely swept funds earmarked for counties and cities to “balance” the state’s budget or fund pet projects like lower corporate taxes. Beyond the Legislature’s negative impact on Baja Arizona, the Tucson economy is not diversified enough. Manufacturing is nearly non-existent in Southern Arizona. There is an over-reliance on defense spending, University of Arizona spin-offs, tourism, low-wage service jobs, and growth/development. 

    Written on Friday, 15 November 2013 15:56 Read more...

Find Your Elected Officials for Issues

Enter your zip+4 and find your elected officials. This link provides name, address and phone number

ButtonFindElectedOfficials

 

Progressive Central Panel on Ending Corporate Rule

Ask Bill Moyers How to Overturn Citizens United