Black individuals are four times as likely as white individuals to be arrested for marijuana use/possession in the United States despite similar usage rates. | Photo illustration by Deija Zavala

Marijuana Legalization is a Race Issue

Marijuana laws are enforced unequally and minority communities bear the brunt of the consequences.
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Marijuana laws are enforced unequally and minority communities bear the brunt of the consequences

Many states have voted on the legalization of marijuana, a schedule one drug, and 11 states have legalized recreational cannabis. Weed is now a large source of legal income in the U.S.

Forbes shows that the top three states where recreational marijuana is legal profited over $4 billion in 2018 on cannabis sales. But according to a 2010 study by the American Civil Liberties Union, states waste over $3 billion a year in weed-related arrests.

We believe states waste more time and taxpayer money by not legalizing and decriminalizing weed. Law enforcement often enforce weed laws unequally, with more arrests in underprivileged neighborhoods, which are often filled with people of color. According to the ACLU, black people are four times as likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession despite similar usage rates.

We are fed up with blatant inequality and discrimination.

In July 2016, a Minnesota police officer shot and killed black 32-year-old Philando Castile in his vehicle. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigated the case, and was told by the officer that he “feared for his life” due to the smell of marijuana and Castile’s lack of concern for the child in the vehicle. This ended in the officer’s acquittal.

While most states don’t keep data for marijuana possession by Latinx individuals, New York City’s data shows that the Latinx community has the same rate of use as black and white individuals, but recent data shows that marijuana possession is the fourth most common cause of deportation.

It’s obvious that many of those affected by these ludicrous laws are from black and brown communities. And it may be relevant to note that there is political gain to keep it this way, as many people who have been arrested for marijuana can no longer vote.

This war on drugs, specifically the war on marijuana, is a war on communities of color. Children are left without parents and people are locked up for years on minor counts. And yet, even when white people commit similar crimes the punishments are all too different.

Opioid addiction is at an all time highs in the states. It has largely affected white communities, but the amount of arrests is no where near that of other cultural communities when marijuana is involved.

If treatment and repercussions are unequal, we need to understand that the system is flawed. When one group is given more freedom to make mistakes than another, it seems that there is a hidden agenda at work to keep white communities more prosperous.

Drug laws are just one example of discriminatory regulations within the United States. Data shows that law enforcement agencies often treat people of color differently, our laws only add tension to the problem.

As of now, 10 states plus Washington D.C. have legalized recreation marijuana and an additional 20 allow medicinal use. These states should quickly look into decriminalizing the drug fully. If we take steps to free individuals locked up for minor drug possession charges and use the money saved to focus on bigger issues, then we take one major step toward reforming the country’s unjust system.

It may be a slow process, but it’s one that needs to happen now.

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