Marijuana is Legal In Colorado. So When Will America’s Super-Racist Drug War End?

As consenting adults line up to purchase legal recreational weed in Denver, elsewhere blacks are four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites.

Photo |

Photo |

According to a 2013 report by the ACLU, blacks are almost four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. It’s a sobering contrast to Colorado’s first week with legalized weed (it began on Jan. 1), following the passage of Colorado’s Amendment 64, passed with 55 percent of the vote in November 2012. The rollout has been largely successful (businesses banked about $1 million in sales that day) with long lines of consenting adults waiting to get their hands on the good stuff.

In some areas, local governments are loosening their grip in response to the electorate, which may prove to be a good thing, though it remains to be seen if stakeholders in other parts of the country will be willing to concede. Profit will be the main incentive, as it has been.

Profit is the driving factor behind the war on drugs; the statistics only bolster the point that the public face of the menacing drug pusher and the violent drug abuser (irrespective of the drug itself) in America is a poor and/or brown one — this despite the fact that drugs push far beyond the concrete jungles of the inner cities, and dust the dwelling spaces of America’s elite and privileged. Still, the War On Drugs was not fought in the boardrooms of Wall Street, in the hushed bathrooms of Hollywood celebrity, nor on the pristine campuses of prep school academies and the lush greeneries of country clubs.

President Reagan’s war started in 1982 to reduce the trade of illicit drugs. Before him, President Nixon had already established two government agencies (The Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement and The Drug Enforcement Administration) to handle the drug trade at both the street and international levels. In August 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published the first in a three-part series called “Dark Alliance: The Story Behind the Crack Explosion” linking crack cocaine, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Nicaraguan Contra army.

The series, which has lead to intense speculation and conspiracy theorizing about the government’s role in the proliferation of drugs in urban city centers, read:

“For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency… This drug network opened the first pipeline between Colombia’s cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a city now known as the ‘crack’ capital of the world. The cocaine that flooded in helped spark a crack explosion in urban America… and provided the cash and connections needed for L.A.’s gangs to buy automatic weapons.”

As the Reagan Administration focused on its war, drug abuse was criminalized and the police state grew within urban communities while Nancy Reagan offered pithy advice to kids to “Just Say No.” Following the overdose death of Len Bias, a promising young basketball star, in 1986, both drug sales and drug abuse became criminal and political thanks to (not-so-subtle) fear baiting that correlated drugs with race, poverty and violent crime.

Since Reagan’s ’80s, there’s been a drastic expansion of the prison population and number of prisons built in the United States, thanks, in part, to the sentencing disparities for crack and cocaine that disproportionately jailed people of color with tougher sentencing requirements. (In 2011, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act into law, reducing the disparity.) Still, America has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Prisons are profitable business for private companies as well as the state, particularly in areas in need of economic revitalization. Criminalizing drug use and broken drug policies have kept business booming with prisoners as a new labor force for private contractors. Here in Philadelphia, a shiny new $400 million dollar jail was built, even as many of the city’s public schools closed their doors.

Both misdemeanor and felony marijuana possession convictions have devastating effects for both the individual and his or her community through disenfranchisement, including drivers license suspension, loss of voting rights, revocation of professional licenses, denial of educational financial aid, and restricted access to food stamps. One out of 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a report; one out of 32 maintains a relationship with the Prison Industrial Complex through probation, parole or prison. Punishments continue well after criminal sentencing and time served, crippling members of the re-entry population, and gravely impacting their abilities to contribute their local community or society at large. With few options to move forward, it practically invites recidivism, which is as mindless as any drug could be.

Follow @MF_Greatest on Twitter.

Around The Web

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • Stein

    The States should be the laboratories of democracy. So let’s see how this experiment plays out, and let’s give other states more latitude to explore policies that are popular with their citizens.

    • chris9465

      Its about ending the expirement of prohibition…..which clearly has never worked

  • Astralmilkman

    Racist ? Look if a person is STUPID enough to brake the law it’s not racisit it’s just illegal. I’m so bored with people calling it racism when some one of color is involved. What ever happened to personal responsibility ? The percentages don’t point to racism , they point to a problem within that part of the population . So please stop
    feeding this IT’S NOT MY FAULT/ IM OWED EVERTHING ! Mentality.
    Remember Martin Luther King ….. It’s content of character not color of skin!

    • DeTrevor

      That’s racist!

      • Astralmilkman

        Really ? Quoting MLK is racist ? Wake up , it’s 2014 and the man in the white house is black who was voted into office by a white majority. The wars over , get on with your life and be happy.

        • ihydrocarbon

          As the article documents, implementation of drug policy is skewed heavily against people of color. See figure #10.

          • Astralmilkman

            That’s like saying pregnancys are skewed heavily against women , are you serious ? I don’t have Dui’s because I don’t drink , I don’t have a record of smoking pot because I don’t do weed. How about taking responsibility for your actions ? Hey I know how to change the data ……………
            STOP SMOKING GOD DAMM WEED ! No ones putting a gun to anybody’s head in the hood and forcing them to smoke ,practice unprotected sex or commit crimes ! So save your breathe , you want change ? Start with the
            Person in the mirror , why would you expect a segment of society to change when their constantly told its not their fault for whatever situation they find themselves in ? Hard work and personal responsibility is what’s lacking in poor neighborhoods . Its just sad how many lives liberal policy’s have destroyed .

          • chris9465

            I smoke weed am 39 white college educated and own a home…….stop believing stereo types

          • ihydrocarbon

            You don’t “do” weed because your endocannabinoid system is already balanced. Your melanin deficient peers that “do” are exempt from marijuana laws by about 3 to 1, as has been documented by the FBI and the US Census in figure #10 above.

            If lies that remain on the public record about the safety and efficacy of insulin were the basis for the annual arrests of 500,000 white people, would you tell your grandmother that it’s her fault?

            Laws banning cannabis are based on false claims about it’s effects on the “degenerate races” and remain in effect because they create jobs and wealth for one class of people while denying freedoms and opportunities for the rest.

    • chris9465

      Your missing the point……..police are more willing to look the other way and just dump the bag in the dirt and send the white kids on there way…….black kids get arrested and go to court get a drug convication………is it still not the color of their skin

    • Buzzby19491

      When Blacks and White use marijuana at approximately the same rate but Blacks are arrested four times as often, that is RACiSM.

      • Astralmilkman

        If the young black kid considers it no big deal smoking pot and getting in front of the judge ( YES THEIR GONNA HAVE MUCH HIGHER RATES OF ARREST ) . Look , I work in Philly and the police force is I believe majority black or close to it. What explains the high black arrest in Philly ? I want the best for every kid no matter their color . But when you have hip hop artist portraying its cool to do drugs and get time in jail and the liberal elite making every excuse for them when they mess up ( it’s not their fault / it’s because of slavery / they never had a chance , blah blah blah ) what do you expect ? Until young people of every color see themselves as individuals , with their own hopes and dreams not some fabricated image from the politicians or hip hop you’ll always have some body using them and exploiting their situation. KING had it right , Content of character NOT color of skin. Just for the record , I’m a european mutt , which means I’m white , my wife’s Colombian , all my kids are half Spanish , my oldest is engaged to great guy who happens to be black . I couldn’t care less about some ones color , it’s victimology that keeps racism alive and damaging society. Whether a black guy listens to hip hop or violin music , eats strictly French food or soul food , watches basketball or just plays chess is irrelevant . It’s the person inside that counts and how he treats the world around him and of course how he treats his family , color is just something that gets put on the census .

        • ihydrocarbon


          U.S. laws banning cannabis are based on perjury, false claims presented under oath before Congress about pot’s effects on the “degenerate races” and other lies that remain on the public record about the safety and efficacy of

          Respectfully, look at the chart. Do your homework and you’ll discover that people of color are less likely to use, but more likely to be arrested for marijuana across the board.

          An arrest record will follow you for life, and especially drug arrests will raise flags that preclude you from many opportunities. Yet all illegal drugs combined represent a small fraction of deaths compared to legal but defective and often deadly alternatives.

          • Astralmilkman

            If pot is legalized I hope I’m wrong about it doing even more damage to society , really ! I just feel it’ll be another excuse
            for why this or that segment of the population is doing poorly
            and then the blame somehow wind up at my doorstep . I still say the biggest problem facing young black men is themselves. I know it bothers some people when I say that but that’s what I honestly’ll be interesting to see what effect legalization has on those states.
            Here’s hoping for the best

          • ihydrocarbon

            Thanks, perhaps look at the chart above again.

            No matter what the excuse, people of
            color are less likely to use, yet FAR more likely to be
            arrested for marijuana

            Read that again: people of
            color are less likely to use, yet FAR more likely to be
            arrested for marijuana.

            Cannabis has been available for thousands of years and use has INCREASED during it’s prohibition so if you are worried about it doing even more damage to society, read that last part again: use has INCREASED during it’s prohibition.

  • enufalready

    Like people aren’t dumb enough, lazy enough now. This will be interesting on many levels. (1) how the dealers are going to react and (2) all the tax money this will generate for the governments – lets see how fast they can spend it on meaningless drivel, pouring it quicklly into the black hole — all the while crying — we need more.

    • ihydrocarbon

      Since cannabis and alcohol are commodities with cross price elasticities of demand, more users will mean lower DUI related fatalities, fewer fights, rapes and emergency room visits.

  • ihydrocarbon

    All illegal drugs combined represent a small fraction of harm compared to legal but defective and often deadly alternatives.

    As a society we accept such risks for adults, and cannabis’ proponents are speaking out and demanding access to safer alternatives without the threat of arrest.

    What legitimate reason exists to continue arresting marijuana users?