Do you like throwing billions of dollars away? Do you hate fellow human beings? Do you feel like America’s values are more of a light suggestion than a moral code? …No?!
Yeah, me neither.
Today, I would like to shed light on a massive failing of the American justice system, a social problem, and if those weren’t enough reasons in and of themselves… a huge waste of money. The wrongful incarceration of people of color for the possession of marijuana.
I was lucky enough to take a criminal justice class with a lawyer who, at the time, was the District Attorney of a major city on the east coast. He told our class that the government did not want to make arrests and waste precious tax dollars on individuals who were found with possession of marijuana, however the police used the marijuana charge to add more time to criminals who were brought up on existing charges. It’s refreshing to hear one person in a position of power say this, however the evidence shows this is not always the case. I think it would be remiss not to highlight the injustice present in our community for people wrongfully imprisoned for consuming a literal plant. Especially with the popularity that cannabis is gaining in the mainstream, and in states like California, D.C., Washington, etc.
Now before we delve in, nay-sayers, there are some instances in which people should be charged for having cannabis. If a purchase of cannabis helps to fuel cartels or other dangerous regimes, and someone knowingly purchases their bud. Well, that is most definitely breaking the law. And inherently wrong. But, there are an overwhelming amount of instances in which otherwise innocent people are arrested for marijuana.
The ACLU states that “of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana.” Yes, I’ve heard that argument too; “it’s a schedule 1 drug and it’s against the law.” Well, the history of how marijuana came to become a schedule 1 drug, a higher schedule than cocaine and methamphetamine, is deeply corrupt and entirely arbitrary. Yes, you read that right. Please find our blog on the history of cannabis as contraband to learn more. This scheduling was because of none other than Richard Nixon, not the most trustworthy President the US has ever had. The ACLU report continues; “nationwide, the arrest data revealed one consistent trend: significant racial bias. Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.” That is a massive injustice! Especially considering cannabis is becoming mainstream, however people are still rotting in prisons and suffering from the stigma of criminal conviction.
Additionally troubling, according to Vox, “blacks use marijuana at 1.3 times the rate of whites.” So, people of color are using cannabis less, but getting arrested more. The divergence between our cultural norm and the law, and the evidence that people of color are being arrested more frequently than white users WHO use MORE should trouble us all. Especially those who use cannabis within the laws of their state.
I read a piece in Vogue, that described doing yoga with marijuana. The article’s photo for the piece featured two white women. While it’s nice to see the normalization of cannabis, especially from a force that is Vogue, we must first level the legal landscape so that those wrongfully imprisoned have justice. We must create a space of equality before we can commodify and celebrate cannabis in the space of luxury and recreation. Additionally, it is troubling that Vogue used two white models, because it adds to the problem between white and black users of cannabis. Visuals of two white women using cannabis to do yoga make it normal for women of privilege to use, but adds to the vortex that is the racial bias surrounding marijuana and the law. Instead, cultural creators like Vogue (love, but you goofed on this one, Vogue) should do more to represent everyone in a new light: especially black and Latina users, especially given the history of racial bias.
If the above reasons weren’t enough to show you that there is a problem with our justice system, the ACLU says “for our communities, marijuana arrests mean wasting money that could be better spent.” We “waste $3,613,969,972” annually enforcing marijuana arrests. Imagine what that amount of capital could be used for. Funding teachers and schools, infrastructure, Medicare, literally anything to benefit America instead of scourge by discrimination. Meanwhile, both financial resources, and the lives of people of color spared. Individuals who are able to contribute to society instead of rotting in prison for a ridiculous charge.
If you are moved by these statistics, and by racial disparity in our justice system, find out more and get involved with the following organizations. It’s high time we stop racial injustice in our justice system and wrongful convictions.
DOJ: Write a Letter to the Department of Justice
U.S. Department of Justice ATTN: Attorney General Jeff Sessions
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001