Marijuana laws this year could help black and Latino drug dealers to go legal
Young black men in Oakland were getting arrested while the white men who were also selling pot were left alone by authorities.
America's war on drugs, paticularly marijuana, has disproportionately affected minority communities in the country for decades, leading to incarceration, limited employment and ultimately creating a cycle of poverty, according to legal and social justice experts.
Tucky Blunt, a fourth-generation Oakland native, grew up in an atmosphere where everyone around him used marijuana, from his grandmother to his parents. Blunt began selling it to his friends in the neighborhood at the age of 16. After nearly a decade of illegal sales, he was caught by authorities over $80 worth of cannabis, after someone he thought as a friend tipped off the authorities.
He was arrested in 2004.
"We were out there trying to make money to help support our families at a time when people didn't have a lot money. We didn't think we were hurting anyone," Blunt, now 30, told the USA Today. "I liked weed. I knew people who liked weed. Why not facilitate them getting good weed? That's how I looked at it."
During all this time, young black men in Oakland like Blunt were getting arrested while the white men who were also selling pot were left alone by authorities.
"It affected everybody in my circle because it was only targeted to us. I knew white people that was selling weed that never went to jail," Blunt told the outlet. "The war on drugs was just about putting as many of us in jail in possible. It tore up a lot of families."
Oakland voters, the same year Blunt was arrested, had ordered police officers to make marijuana enforcement their lowest priority. However, a decade later, it was found out that the officers were still arresting young black men for marijuana crimes at alarmingly higher rates than for white men.
According to the city's statistics, 77 percent of the arrests related to marijuana in Oakland in 2015 were of African-Americans, while white men represented just 4 percent of those arrests, despite the city's population being nearly 30 percent black and 30 percent white. Similar data has been found all across the United States.
Colorado, which became the first state to legalize marijuana, registered a 52 percent decrease in total number of marijuana arrests between 2012 and 2017, but the marijuana arrest rate for black men was nearly double than that of whites in 2017.
According to health statistics, whites and African-Americans use marijuana at nearly equivalent rates, suggesting that such a contrast in arrests is mostly driven by police.
However, things are beginning to change. California is heading the states in attempting to make amends for years of racist drug policies. The state, in 2016, approved recreational marijuana in a ballot measure, which also allowed people with marijuana arrests to get their records expunged.
The state lawmakers also passed a new law last fall which ordered prosecutors to review and reduce or dismiss sentences and records for low-level marijuana offenses, making it the first statewide law of its kind.
Advocates backed the law saying that such efforts have the potential to make a difference.
A marijuana business owner in California and Oregon, Christine De La Rose told the outlet: "Once the train has left the station, it's hard to attach new boxcars. People are starting to understand and to put the pieces together: This child's father has been in jail for 16 years on a minor possession charge, and then right across the street at the marijuana convention you have a bunch of white guys in ties getting rich."
Reports state that similar marijuana laws and social justice reforms are coming up in multiple states with legal marijuana and even those without the legalization.
Multiple marijuana legalization activists have brought the disparity to the fore stating that if white men have benefitted from marijuana legalization unfairly then it is only fair that people in minority communities be given extra help now because they suffered more.
The New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Kassandra Frederique, said: "We actually do have to overcorrect. People from our communities, black and brown communities, were the one first ones to be criminalized. Why shouldn’t we be the first ones to benefit?"
Several cities in California have reportedly created cannabis equity programs in an effort to assist former drug dealers go legal, as the program provides assistance with business development, loans and mentor relationships. Former Governor Jerry Brown, in 2018, had signed a bill to partially fund similar programs.
The legislation stated that it would ensure "that persons most harmed by cannabis criminalization and poverty be offered assistance to enter the multibillion-dollar industry as entrepreneurs or as employees with high-quality, well-paying jobs.”
A similar equity program has also been launched in Massachusetts with more states in the country prepping to incorporate them in the system.