Pot & Black Clergy: an Unholy Alliance?

Pot & Black Clergy: an Unholy Alliance?

The move to legalize marijuana is fraught with racial politics.

A couple of years ago, when California NAACP head Alice Huffman endorsed marijuana legalization in her state, more than 20 African-American leaders called for her resignation.

“Why would the state NAACP advocate for blacks to stay high?” one church leader said. “It’s going to cause crime to go up. There will be more drug babies.”

So it’s no insignificant thing that three African-American pastors have now endorsed Washington state’s legalization measure: Last week, the Rev. Leslie Braxton of New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, the Rev. Carl Livingston of Kingdom Christian Center, and the Rev. Steve Baber of Skyway United Methodist Church all put their names behind Initiative 502.

Alison Holcomb, head of the initiative campaign, concedes that African-Americans have been “a very tough community to bring on board.” Many, she says, “view drugs as destroying their community.” But legalization campaigners made a deliberate effort to reach out to African-American leaders, recently hosting luncheons for pastors, one with Huffman and one with Paul Butler, an African-American former U.S. Attorney and author who’s become a crusader against mass incarceration.

“The traditional face of the marijuana-legalization movement” doesn’t work very well in the black community, Holcomb allows, so these speakers undoubtedly had an appeal that well-meaning white liberals couldn’t summon. And the fact is, the legalization debate can be effectively framed in racial terms. As the I-502 campaign’s release about the endorsements puts 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.”

The release also quotes Rev. Braxton: “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, where they get branded with criminal records that turn them into second-class citizens facing additional barriers to education and employment.”

Rev. Baber adds that drug enforcement has turned into the “reincarnation of Jim Crow. If you have a felony conviction, then you get all these prohibitions: You can’t get federal loans, you can’t vote, you can’t stay in public housing.”


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

Puget Sound renters will need housing assistance
Puget Sound renters will need housing assistance

Nonprofits, activists are expecting greater need as workers are laid off.

Map of proposed landfill expansion sites (screenshot from King County website)
Waste management expert knocks county’s plan to expand landfill

The waste management advocate said the decision to expand seems pre-determined despite assessment.

file photo
State employees including first responders sue state over vaccine mandate

The lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 90 plaintiffs claims Inslee’s order is unconstitutional.

Pixabay photo
Union carpenters to go on strike, expected to impact Eastside Microsoft projects

Members authorized strike after rejecting AGC offer for the fourth time.

file photo
The state’s hospitals face “unprecedented collapse” amid COVID uptick warn healthcare unions

Union spokeperson says understaffing was a problem even before the pandemic.

Gov. Jay Inslee talks about schools reopening during a past news conference. (Screenshot courtesy of TVW)
Masks required at big outdoor events; vaccine mandates expanded

Governor’s mask order takes effect Sept. 13.

Pixabay image
King County is looking for community members to help oversee law enforcement accountability

Community Advisory Committee for Law Enforcement Oversight is in need of applicants.

Garbage at the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill in Maple Valley. FILE PHOTO
Why burning our trash may not be as bad as it sounds

Understanding waste-to-energy’s financial and environmental impact in King County.

Most Read