Commentary: A Fight for Decriminalized Marijuana in Chicago

A Chicago alderman is hoping to put an end to the racist pot laws in the Windy City.

In August of last year, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which changed the 100-1 disparity between crack cocaine minimum sentencing and powder cocaine minimum sentencing to 18-1. The change wasn’t perfect, obviously, but it did lessen the disparity extremely. For years drug offenders busted with powder cocaine (read: white) were getting off far easier than offenders busted with crack (read: Black), despite the fact that crack and powder cocaine are very comparable substances. Now that that law’s been passed, however, a new drug disparity should be on the agenda of Blacks around the country: The decriminalization of marijuana.


Statistics show very clearly that whites smoke marijuana at higher rates than Blacks. Yet despite this fact, in some of California’s biggest cities, Blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at up to 13 times the rate of whites. If police can’t or won’t enforce the laws in ways that aren’t prejudiced against a certain group of people, then perhaps it’s time something’s done about the law. In Chicago, at least, one alderman is on the case.


Pointing towards the uneven enforcement of marijuana laws throughout Chicago, which means that police bust pot users in Black neighborhoods far more than in white neighborhoods, Alderman Danny Solis is attempting to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in the city limits. And on Wednesday, eight of his colleagues joined his fight.  “Marijuana usage between whites, Latinos and African-Americans is the same,” Alderman Joe Moreno told the Chicago Sun-Times, “[yet] 78 percent of the arrests are for Black and brown folks.”


Besides helping stop racist police behavior, the decriminalization would save police resources and time. Marijuana wouldn’t be legal in Chicago if Solis’ bill passed, but people caught with less than 10 grams would only be required to pay a $200 fine. Being able to write tickets instead of having to haul marijuana users into jail would save a lot of time and money to ensure police are out fighting actually dangerous criminals.


Though the bill was introduced Tuesday, it probably won’t be enacted until next year, if at all. In the meantime, Blacks in Chicago should do everything in their power to support Solis’ fight, both for the safety of their ethnic community and for the sanity of everyone who supports rational drug policies.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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