Brennan Linsley/Associated Press – Hundreds of people in line for the
Jan. 1 opening of the 3D Cannabis Center, a legal retail outlet for
marijuana in Denver.
If you’re white, that joint probably won’t lead to jail time
By Stacey Patton and David J. Leonard, Published: January 10, 2015
Has the new year started out on a high or a drugged-out low? The decriminalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado has been heralded as the end of prohibition — and alternately lamented as the rock-bottom of America’s morality.
But few have acknowledged the obvious: The media’s images of mostly scruffy-looking, smiling people, lined up to score some newly legal dope, are overwhelmingly white.
Now imagine the reaction — from the media, your mother and the Justice Department — if these lines were filled with young Hispanics or African Americans with cornrows, do-rags and sagging pants? We can almost hear the conversation shifting from warnings about the health risks of the munchies to panic over marijuana as a “gateway drug” — and the violence, gang activity and criminality it sows.
What’s happening in Washington and Colorado isn’t a shift so much as a formalization of what has long been a reality: If you’re white, you can do drugs with relative impunity. No one law or state initiative will be the nail in the coffin of America’s failed war on drugs — and sadly, black and Latino Americans will continue to get locked up while others are getting high.
According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, there were 8 million marijuana arrests in the United States from 2001 to 2010. These arrests were anything but colorblind: Eighty-eight percent were for possession, a crime for which black Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested than whites. While white and black Americans use marijuana at roughly similar rates — though whites ages 18 to 25 consistently surpass their black peers — arrest rates are nowhere near comparable. As of 2005, according to the American Bar Association, African Americans represented 14 percent of drug users (and of the population as a whole), yet accounted for 34 percent of all drug arrests and 53 percent of those sent to prison for a drug offense.