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Did America Demonize Marijuana To Send Black People To Jail?

Marijuana, weed, reggie. It has many names, in fact drug dealers needed to make street names for marijuana in order to not be caught. However, now that white America has a love affair with marijuana these names no longer represent a dangerous drug. Rather, a safe alternative to opioids and painkillers, in fact research is being done on THC’s effect on cancer cells. 

So the question is, why did America demonize marijuana for so long? Also, why have the victims of marijuana related drug charges not be freed? According, to the figures there were 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana. And as always, a gander into national statistics shows racial bias when it comes to arrests.  

‘Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.’

So why then can a white journalist go on CNN and smoke marijuana, whilst many African-Americans sit in prison cells for marijuana possession. In fact, President Trump has admitted to smoking and inhaling marijuana, Obama wrote about his encounters with marijuana in his memoirs. Showtime has based an entire TV series, Weeds, on the premise that marijuana is an integral part of American suburban life. 

According to ACLU,  enforcing unnecessary marijuana laws has cost the US  $3.6 billion a year. This is tax money that could have been better spent on improving provisions for healthcare for millions of Americans, yet the government has been happy to allow prisons to fill up with black people arrested for possession of marijuana. 

If you don’t think there is a problem with the American prison system, you need to look at the facts. The prison population in America is currently at six million inmates. This is more than the innocent people imprisoned in Stalin’s gulags. And of this 6 million, black prisoners make up 2.2 million roughly 37% of the prison population. This would not be a worrying statistic under different circumstances, but when African-American make up 12-13% of the population this becomes worrying.  

“Compared to Non-blacks, California’s African-American population are 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana, 12 times more likely to be imprisoned for a marijuana felony arrest, and 3 times more likely to be imprisoned per marijuana possession arrest. Overall, as Figure 3 illustrates, these disparities accumulate to 10 times’ greater odds of an African-American being imprisoned for marijuana than other racial/ethnic groups.”

Males, Mike, “Misdemeanor marijuana arrests are skyrocketing and other California marijuana enforcement disparities,” Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (San Francisco, CA: November 2011), p. 6.

The statistics are jarring, if you analyse the figures, you are right to infer that the system was built to trap African-Americans in prisons. The next step is to lobby the government to release those white and black prisoners that are still behind bars for marijuana related arrests, especially in cases where the amount that was found was not enough to even sell.  

If the stats to sway you,  watch this PSA from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Partnership for a Drug-Free America. It tries to scare middle class white teens living in the suburbs not to try drugs like their ‘city’ counterparts. 

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