Commentary: Legalized Pot Is a Win for the Black Community

New drug laws in Washington and Colorado signal a change in a law that’s hurt African-Americans for so long.

Posted: 11/08/2012 07:08 PM EST
Commentary: Legalized Pot Is a Win for the Black Community

There were a lot of big wins for liberalism on Tuesday. Not only did the first African-American president win re-election, but America also got its first openly gay senator in Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin and its first Hindu member of Congress in Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard.

All of those were great victories, and they signal steps forward in an America whose Tea Party ways seemed immovable a couple years ago. But beyond that, some very important ballot initiatives were passed this week, too, and they could help change America, particularly for Black Americans, in very meaningful ways.

Voters in Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana in their states. Essentially, the laws say that any adult over the age of 21 can use marijuana the way they’d use alcohol and that the state will generate tax money from the substance’s sale. State analysts in Colorado estimate that that they can start getting between $5 million and $22 million annually in tax revenues from the now legal marijuana trade.

But more than just economic benefits to the states, legalized marijuana brings a lot to the table for anyone who supports a rational justice system and a less racist system of cracking down on drugs, too.

FBI numbers show that marijuana possession arrests account for more than 45 percent of drug arrests annually. In Colorado, about 10,000 people are picked up for the crime every year and in Washington that number jumps to 13,000. Worse still, not only are thousands and thousands of Americans constantly getting arrested because of a little bit of marijuana, many of them are Black, a group picked up for pot at rates that far outpace their white counterparts.

As I wrote for BET back in July:

Despite the fact that whites smoke marijuana more often than Blacks and Latinos, when it comes to arrests for the drug, Blacks and Latinos are nabbed far more frequently than their white counterparts. In New York City, for instance, which leads the nation in pot busts, nearly 90 percent of the almost 500,000 people who have been charged with misdemeanor pot possession in New York have been Black or Latino.

It’s important to note that neither Colorado nor Washington are known for their high Black populations, so the pot legalizations in those states won’t put too much of a dent into the problem of racially imbalanced Black marijuana arrests. But every movement has to have a beginning, and it might not be too long before New York City has the sense to follow suit.

Though the laws have been approved by voters at the state level, we’ll now have to wait and see how the Obama administration reacts. Obama has long gone after legal medical marijuana distributors for breaking federal law despite state statutes, and some think he may do the same with these laws.

Let’s hope he understands that he’s got bigger fish to fry than some people looking to smoke a joint every now and again.

These views do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


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(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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