Racism, Marijuana Prohibition & the States
Prohibition History & Racial Ties
The 1999 Documentary film Grass, narrated by actor Woody Harrelson, asserts that one of the driving factors for the prohibition of marijuana was racism.
"All though people around the world have been smoking Marijuana for thousands years the custom only reached the united states in the beg 20th century when it arrived in the south west with a wave of Mexicans looking for work," the documentary states.
"In the southwest, the sudden increase in Mexican immigration to the Untied States around 1910 set off yet another round of ethnic confrontation. The Mexicans were lower-class immigrants. They were crude, loud, uneducated. They lived in dirty shanties, ate strange food, and spoke a foreign language. The more resentful of these foreigners Americans became, the readier they were to attribute other negative characteristics to the Mexican. The fact that the Mexicans were Catholics made their situation even more touchy since Protestant America considered Catholicism a religion of dark superstition and ignorance." Source: DrugLibrary.org
"Grass" contends the Mexican workers used it to recuperate from their long hours working. This practice was looked upon negatively by whites who viewed the workers as savage and potentially dangerous. "While not a slave or a sharecropper, he was a peasant. The stereotype of the Mexican was that of a thief, an untamed savage, hot-blooded, quick to anger yet inherently lazy and irresponsible." Source DrugLibrary.org
The documentary asserts that the first prohibition laws in El Paso, Texas were "supposedly designed to control Marijuana, the law quickly became a way for the city to control Mexicans."
The American population became worried about opium and cocaine consumption and created a division of narcotics in the Treasury Department. The bureau set out to gain funding from each state to catch and prosecute users, during the depression, but only 9 states signed on. "Grass" asserts the remaining states felt the campaign was interference. That is until the agency developed progpaganda asserting the dangers of Marijuana, as the drug became more available in big cities.
Marijuana was "popular with the jazz crowd" a predominantly black art form and thought of as perhaps the only truly American art form. As it permeated the cities the government began creating propaganda to instill fear, as had been done with Mexican workers in El Paso, of the effects of the drug. This campaign was effective and the remaining states who had abstained from participation signed on. With the passage of a federal law in 1937, 4 years after prohibition of alcohol ended, "over night a new class of criminals was created."
Alcohol prohibition was a major part of the Harlem Renaissance because night clubs would serve illegal liquor and offer a whole new wave of black entertainment. Many New Yorkers from down the island began to mingle in Harlem crowds and a black intelligentsia emerged. The cultural movement declined after repeal.
This year marked the 75th Anniversary of the repeal.
Modern New York City
The Village Voice article "The NYPD 'Weeds' Out Blacks and Latinos," states that in New york City "Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately busted on minor pot charges." The article says there are more arrests for the drug in NYC than in any other in the nation.
The article cites a study by a Queens college professor:
"Drug surveys routinely indicatethat a higher percentage of whites smoke pot than blacks or Latinos, but Levine found that African-Americans have consistently accounted for about 52 percent of these low-level marijuana arrests over the past decade, even though they're only about 26 percent of the city's population."
According to the article "In 2007 alone, there were 39,700 misdemeanor arrests for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. But such possession hasn't been a crime in New York State since the Marijuana Reform Act of 1977."
NY State Marijuana Possession Law:
Amount Offence Jail Fine
5 g or less (first offense) civil citation none $100
Minorities in the city are charged, because officers use tactics to get them to hold the substance in public view which then escalates the possession a misdemeanor.The article goes on to assert that the city focuses on minorities to fulfill arbitrary quotas and because they wont have the funds available or the status of many white New Yorkers.
Nationally, says Peter Schrag in his opinion piece at the Sacramento Bee ""According to the FBI's latest crime report, among the nation's 1.8 million drug busts in 2007 were 775,000 for simple possession of marijuana for personal use. That 1.8 million is roughly triple the number of arrests for violent crime."
Law reform actually began in the states a few years after the Equal Rights Amendment was passed in 1964, after it was labeled a Class One Substance in 1970. Since then the effort to decriminalize, flourishing under the Clinton administration, has been effective with medical use and has made recreational use only a ticketable offense in many states. Recently in California a ruling create headlines, " U.S. Supreme Court: State Medical Marijuana Laws Not Preempted by Federal Law"
According to the 2008 World Drug Report (though the data for the U.S. & Canada was gathered in 2004 & 2005) about 12% of people between 15-64 in the U.S. consume the plant with 17% in that age group consuming it in Canada.
The age group 15-64 comprises 67.1% of the U.S. population and if there are 301,139,947 people here that means that out of the pool of 24,247,752 approximately 24 and 1/4 million people consume it.
Canada's population is very resonable compared to the U.S. With a total population of 33,212,696, ages 15-64 are 68.8%, and 17% consuming it means of 22,850,335 the consumers are 3,884,556
World population figures from cia.gov.
The Bush adminstration's handling of Hurricane Katrina had many feeling it was a racist administration. The AFP reported in 2006:
"The chaos following Hurricane Katrina showed millions of Americans that deep racial divides, poverty and racism persist in their country. Images of seas of black faces begging for help that took days to arrive, and stories of sheriffs from adjacent white suburbs turning desperate evacuees away at gunpoint as they tried to flee New Orleans, horrified the nation. "
The Bush Administration also famously jailed comedian Tomy Chong and waged a war on pot by allocating money to "soft" drugs. Now he's reporting drug use on the decline by 25% among teens.
After years of reform and a return to state rule on this issue many Americans are waiting to see where America's first black president will stand. Now that the states have taken action on Marijuana law reform, and the last great racial barrier in our nation has been broken, many in the U.S. feel that decriminalization of pot would actually be a logical progression.
Dale Gieringer, California director for NORML, said “Since the 1980s, there’s been a very retro social climate like the ’50s, but I suspect that things are going to open up." Kansas City Star