Rev. Leslie Braxton
Last week Seattle Weekly's Nina Shapiro crafted a post for Daily Weekly regarding African American pastors Rev. Leslie Braxton, Rev. Carl Livingston, and Rev. Steve Baber throwing their support behind Initiative 502, this fall's effort to legalize marijuana in Washington. The post noted that legalization movements in other states have not received major support from many African Americans because of perceptions that drugs -- including marijuana -- bring down African American communities.
Rev. Leslie Braxton
... the fact is, the pot legalization debate can be effectively framed in racial terms.
As I-502 campaign's release about the endorsements put it: "In Washington, an African American adult is three times as likely as a white person to be arrested for marijuana possession, three times as likely to be charged, and three times as likely to be convicted, despite the fact that white Washingtonians use marijuana at a slightly higher rate."
Rev. Braxton is quoted in the piece:
It's no longer enough to say the War on Drugs has been a failure. We have to recognize that it has done damage, especially to black Americans, and we have to change course. Marijuana law enforcement has become a pretext for pushing people into the criminal justice system when they get branded with criminal records that turn them into second-class citizens facing additional barriers to education and employment.
Many of our Daily Weekly commenters supported decriminalizing marijuana. One commenter in particular went to great lengths to describe how the criminalization of marijuana possession can destroy people's lives.
As commenter not Spicoli noted:
In an interview on Time Magazine online, Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, (meaning the drug war), notes the damage that a marijuana arrest can do, "If Barack Obama had been caught...[smoking weed in high school], he would have been branded a criminal and the odds that he would've made it to college are slim." Alexander added, "He might not even be eligible to vote."
While Alexander politely applauds the easing of marijuana possession laws, she's now for legalization. "There are those who believe the government shouldn't be in the business of locking people up and putting them in literal cages because they ingest marijuana. Drug consumption should be treated as a public health problem and not as a crime. I share that view," she said.
"Why criminalize marijuana at all? If we're honest with ourselves, we've got to admit the harm associated with being branded a criminal for life is vastly more devastating to individuals and families than any potential harm associated with smoking marijuana. So if we're gonna point fingers and say, 'If you don't wanna do the time, don't do the crime,' then we have to ask ourselves why is this conduct criminalized? Why is it treated as a crime rather than a public-health problem, and why are the odds of being punished so much greater if you're a person of color than if you're white? Why should young people in ghettoized communities pay for their mistakes for the rest of their lives, while middle-class white kids get to make those mistakes and then go off to college?"
No group has been as negatively impacted by marijuana prohibition as African-Americans. Yet, when Prop 19 appeared on the ballot, only 47 percent of black voters voted for it.
Will this happen in Washington as well? The efforts of NAW coupled with the egregious and blatant racial disparities in enforcement across our nation are working to effect a different result.
"It's complicated," Alexander explains in reference to Prop 19. "African Americans have no doubt suffered the most as a result of the drug war, but many people in the black community are also very concerned about the harms associated with illegal drugs. ... And I think too there was a lot of confusion about what exactly the ballot measure would mean. Would it mean that marijuana would be sold in grocery stores, that it would be available anytime, anywhere? And so I think in the future ... it's going to be very important to help people understand that it is possible to put into place regulatory regimes that treat drugs as a public health problem rather than a crime, but at the same time address the legitimate concerns people have about making drugs more available."