Cannabis legal gap between black and white people
With the new legislation on cannabis, 2019 could be an opportunity for several African-American and Latino drug dealers to become legal.
The situation is creating many expectations among those communities which feel racism is used against them when it comes to weed crimes. Different media are following the subject with increasing interest.
Probably the most famous news paper has been following the case of a drug dealer who spent his whole life selling marijuana to his friends. He grew up with marijuana being another family member. His parents and his grandmother always smoked weed. He began to smoke while being very young too. Soon he realized it was a good idea to pay his own weed selling the cannabis to his friends and neighbors. He bought the weed from a supplier and sold it to those friends who used to call him to meet up.
He spent more than a decade selling weed before he got arrested with $80 worth of marijuana. He was wearing several baggies hidden in his pants the day he was caught. It seems a “good friend” gave him away.
He declared he was trying to make some money to support his family and that he wasn’t hurting anybody. He argues saying he likes weed and he knows friends who like it too. Why not getting good weed for them? That was what he said at the Courthouse.
The arrest occurred in 2004. His conviction left him with a 10-year felony probation. Police used to stop him at any time for whatever reason. He complains about it saying only in Oakland, many young black men are being arrested while most white people who sell cannabis are left alone.
According to him, everybody in his circle and family was continuously disturbed by officers, while many white people that were selling marijuana never set foot in jail.
Among the many justice experts who have expressed their opinion about it, most of them say “The war on drugs has for decades disproportionately devastated minority communities by punishing people and creating a cycle of poverty, incarceration and limited employment options, legal and social justice”
Nowadays, both advocates and lawmakers in USA are asking for remedies against decades of racist policies. They want laws that expunge criminal records for cannabis dealing and possession. They ask for different policies that could give minorities, such as African-American and Latino, help in building cannabis businesses.
Oakland’s voters ordered police officers to consider cannabis enforcement of the law their lowest priority. However, ten years later, the problem remains the same. Cops continue arresting black men for cannabis crimes at rates remarkable higher than for white people.
The city’s statistics are clear: 77 percent of the marijuana arrests in Oakland in 2015 were of African-Americans. However, whites only represented a 4 percent of the arrest, although the number of white and black people in the city is the same.
Basically the same statistics have been reported across the whole country. Thanks to cannabis legalization, the number of arrests has decreased. However, black people continue being a target for police officers. It happens everywhere, even in those states with larger white populations, black people who use or sell weed, have a higher arrest rates.
In Colorado, the first state that legalized cannabis in 2012, the number of arrests went down by 52 percent between 2012 and 2017. The number of arrests decreased from 12.709 to 6.153. However, the cannabis arrests rate for black people was almost the double that of whites in 2017. This happens in a state where 84 percent of the population is white.
Only in Alaska, 29 percent of arrest related to cannabis crimes, are for black, although the African-American people are a 4 percent. In other words, arrest rate for black people is almost 10 times higher than that of whites. Recreational cannabis became legal in Alaska in 2014.
In Washington, D.C., a state where weed is legal, an African-American person is 11 times more likely than a white one to be arrested for public consumption. The data has been obtained from the Metropolitan Police Department statistics.
National Health statistics confirm that whites and black people consume cannabis at more or less equivalent rates. Then, why there is such a disparity in arrests?
Amending racist drug policies
California is the leader trying to amend years of discriminatory policies. After legalizing recreational cannabis in 2016, California began a policy to expunge records of people who were arrested for cannabis crimes; mostly possession. The state lawmakers passed a new law ordering prosecutors to review, reduce and even dismiss sentences and records related to low-level weed crimes. It was the first time a state did something like this.
However, many advocates say it would have been better including from the beginning the automatic expungement and other measures to help minority communities. During an interview about the young man we mentioned in the beginning of this article, a very important business woman from California and Oregon said “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.”
Many similar debates are occurring all over the country. Prosecutors from Seattle are trying to abolish hundreds of convictions against people who were arrested carrying small amounts of cannabis. The same is happening in different states. The question is to expunge marijuana records where the weed has been legalized.
Maryland State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby told her office would no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases. However, in 2017 police continued their policy. Among the citations, 95 percent went to African-Americans. This happens in a city (Baltimore) where population is about 60 percent black and 30 percent white. We must remember that cannabis possession became legal in 2014. M. Mosby also said “drug laws have been disproportionately enforced in communities of color, and that’s creating an erosion of public trust.”
Legally selling cannabis
It is a fact that cannabis industry is largely rich, white and male. And the situation doesn’t seem to change in the short term. When recreational cannabis became legal in some states, it was almost impossible to have access to this new market if you had criminal records. Moreover, the law gave preference to people who were already working with medical marijuana companies.
Getting a small-business loan to create a cannabis-related company, is reserved for citizens without any drug conviction or arrest. Therefore, possession of small amount of cannabis when it was illegal was a reason to have criminal record. Having this criminal record it is impossible to obtain a license. A situation that is more common among African-American people.
A survey by an important financial institution showed that whites made up 81 percent of citizens who had started a marijuana company or, at least, had an ownership stake. Statistics suggest that most cannabis legalization systems were compounding the racial gap.
The Power brothers, two African-American brothers who worked in many dispensaries for years, declared during an interview on TV: “From a logical standpoint, I can agree with it,” Powers said. “You make the industry super-hard to get into, that only people who are squeaky clean can get into it, because you know all eyes are on you. However, that is the approach always, always, that you take to whitewash things and make it clean. That’s literally what you say before you fire the black people and the minorities.”
In fact, the fear of being a target for police, keeps many black people without criminal records away from legal cannabis industry. They prefer waiting to see what is going on.
The black actress and cannabis entrepreneur Whoopi Goldberg, has been advocating for many years for racial equality and cannabis legalization. The actress co-founded a medical cannabis company in 2016. She counted on her popularity to insulate her from the policing that young black men had to face. “When you look at who is in jail for marijuana, it kind of explains it all,” she said. “Black folks with marijuana went to jail a lot more than white folks with marijuana. I think it’s always been guy-oriented, and in particular white guys, because they could get away with it.”
Drug dealers could go legal
If white people have more advantages from cannabis legalization, it would be fair that minorities be given extra help because they have suffered more.
Kassandra Frederique, the New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance said: “People from our communities, black and brown communities, were the first ones to be criminalized. Why shouldn’t we be the first ones to benefit?”
Only in California, several cities are developing equity programs to help former drug dealers become legal. These programs are basically business development, loan assistance and more. A new law was created for this purpose. The bill stated that “it would help 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.”
Massachusetts lawmakers are launching similar programs after acknowledging that having a 22 percent of Latino or African-American people, there are a 75 percent of these folks in jail under mandatory minimums for drug crimes. These programs are meant for residents with drug conviction or those married to someone with the same circumstance.
Quite a few years after being arrested, the young black man we mentioned at the beginning of this article is the first resident in Oakland who benefits from the city’s special license preference program. According to the equity program, Oakland residents who were hurt by the drug war are obtaining priority and preference to open cannabis stores. This way they can now sell marijuana legally. After he finished his sentence, the mentioned young black man got his criminal record cleared.
We all expect the gap between black and white be soon a question of the old policies.