Monday, October 25, 2010

Race and the Drug War

According to a report released Friday by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project for the Drug Policy Alliance and the N.A.A.C.P. and led by Prof. Harry Levine, a sociologist at the City University of New York: “In the last 20 years, California made 850,000 arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana, and half-a-million arrests in the last 10 years. The people arrested were disproportionately African-Americans and Latinos, overwhelmingly young people, especially men.”

For instance, the report says that the City of Los Angeles “arrested blacks for marijuana possession at seven times the rate of whites.”

This imbalance is not specific to California; it exists across the country.

One could justify this on some level if, in fact, young blacks and Hispanics were using marijuana more than young whites, but that isn’t the case. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, young white people consistently report higher marijuana use than blacks or Hispanics.


What additional evidence do we need in order to decriminalize or legalize marijuana? Prohibition does not work; in fact, it makes matters worse. Now we see that the law is being applied in a discriminatory fashion.

Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow) argues that mass incarceration (and we must add arrest and prosecution to the formula) has evolved as the latest iteration of the Southern strategy. Locking up people of color gives the appearance of a race-neutral policy when, in fact, the ultimate goal is to attract white voters to policies (and the party that supports them).

The problem, as this article points out, is that Democrats are now trapped because no party can be successful if it appears soft on crime. There is no room in U.S. crime control policies for being smart on crime.

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