Commentary: The War on Pot Is Racist and Wasteful

The ACLU releases a new and thorough study to heap more shame onto America’s insane anti-marijuana efforts.

Posted: 06/05/2013 11:28 AM EDT
Marijuana Legalization Supporters

With a major new study called "The War on Marijuana in Black and White" [PDF], the American Civil Liberties Union has heaped even more evidence onto the pile that already shows America's war on marijuana to be a misguided and racist travesty.

You should read the full executive summary for yourself, but the gist is this: Despite the fact that a majority of Americans want legal pot, and despite the fact that multiple states have now legalized medical marijuana to different degrees, weed busts increased from 2001 to 2010. Marijuana arrests now make up a full 52 percent of all drug arrests. Worse still, though Blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly the same rates — whites aged 18 to 25 actually use it more — Blacks are almost four times as likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites.

Though every state has its own struggles with pot prevention, New York leads the nation in marijuana arrests. This is likely due to New York City's racially biased stop-and-frisk program. Proponents of stop and frisk say it helps keep guns off the streets, but the reality is that the vast majority of criminals arrested via stop and frisk — most of whom are Black and Latino — are people carrying small amounts of weed. In essence, stop and frisk, when it’s not being used to stop completely innocent people, has become an easy way for New York City police to bust minorities for low-level drug violations.

And how much is America paying to apprehend citizens for the crime of getting high sometimes? According to the ACLU, marijuana enforcement efforts cost America more than $3.6 billion in 2010. That same year, a study from the Cato Institute estimated that legalized marijuana would yield nearly $9 billion in tax revenue for the U.S. 

Sadly, even if America’s racist war on pot ended tomorrow — something not likely with President Obama’s continued crackdown on legal medical marijuana operations — there would still be other racist drug wars happening all the time.

America’s war on crack, for instance, which has long vilified Blacks, continues to have a sentencing disparity of 18 to 1. That’s after legislators worked for a long time to bring it down from 100 to 1. So we are maybe closer than ever to beating the war on weed; but the broader racist drug war is far from over.

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(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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