Marijuana Legalization is a Civil Rights Issue

This week's news that the California NAACP is endorsing Prop. 19 to legalize marijuana in California hasn't exactly been met with universal applause in the black community. Anti-pot crusader Bishop Ron Allen thinks it's a conspiracy, Big Ced at News One thinks NAACP is stoned, and blogger Mo' Kelly thinks they've lost sight of the distinction between civil rights and civil liberties:

The issue of decriminalizing marijuana is a separate and distinct discussion from the inherent inequities of the criminal justice system. Both are legitimate issues, but not meant to be commingled.

The NAACP, the nation’s oldest CIVIL RIGHTS organization walking point on the CIVIL LIBERTIES issue of marijuana legalization is a farce and an embarrassment. Let the ACLU do what it does…so the NAACP (in California and beyond) can deal with real CIVIL RIGHTS issues…

Ok, but the two aren't mutually exclusive. Let's not forget how these marijuana laws came about in the first place:

In the eastern states, the "problem" was attributed to a combination of Latin Americans and black jazz musicians. Marijuana and jazz traveled from New Orleans to Chicago, and then to Harlem, where marijuana became an indispensable part of the music scene, even entering the language of the black hits of the time (Louis Armstrong's "Muggles", Cab Calloway's "That Funny Reefer Man", Fats Waller's "Viper's Drag").

Again, racism was part of the charge against marijuana, as newspapers in 1934 editorialized: "Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice." [Why is Marijuana Illegal?]

The decision to prohibit marijuana was fueled by racist hysteria, and many have argued that the decades of racially disparate enforcement that followed weren't entirely coincidental. Whether or not our marijuana laws were intended to serve as an instrument of racial oppression, they've performed that function with staggering precision. And when people of color receive unequal treatment under the law, that's a civil rights issue.

Our marijuana laws have never, and will never, be enforced fairly. The brutality of modern drug enforcement reaches every community, but if young white men were given criminal records and subjected to profiling and police harassment at the same rates as people of color, the criminal justice system would quickly come to a crashing halt. The drug war was built on a foundation of fundamental unfairness, and mitigating its catastrophic impact on communities of color requires measures far more drastic than telling police for the millionth time that there's more to their job than searching young black men all day and night.

No, legalizing marijuana won't solve the problem. Not even close. But what it will do is remove one of the primary justifications police rely upon when stopping and searching people in urban communities. It will stop the hemorrhaging of employment opportunities lost by those convicted of simple possession. It will cripple the existing distribution model, thereby reducing youth involvement, street violence and the cyclical lure of the prohibition economy and the severe criminal justice consequences faced by its participants. It will shield generations from the fate that our formerly pot-smoking President was so desperately lucky to have avoided.

If anyone thinks we can solve these problems while still making nearly a million marijuana arrests every year, then please explain. But don't condemn NAACP for supporting a new approach when the old one has failed as consistently and dramatically as it has.

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Equal protection under the law is a fundamental principle

of American justice. Under a narrow definition of the meaning of equal protection, there's no problem letting people use alcohol but not marijuana. Marijuana haters would just say equal protection means that everyone (more precisely, adults not under court supervision) has an equal right to use alcohol. But by any fair standard, ruining people's lives because they prefer a patently safer substance to a clearly more dangerous one tramples on the spirit of equal protection. Americans who like weed but not booze can't shift to the killer drug any more than people can change their race, sex, or sexual orientation, and no one has the moral right to try to force them to use alcohol instead of weed. Either the law on alcohol vs. cannabis is made fair or it remains a pathetic violence promoting farce.

The prohibition of drugs,

ALL drugs, in America has its roots in racism. Even that noble experiment, alcohol prohibition, started as a tee-totalling Protestant backlash against hordes of whiskey- and wine-swilling Irish and Italian Catholic immigrants. And everyting about prohibition and its spin-off war is un-Constitutional.

It's way past time for the ACLU and the NAACP get off their collective duffs, stop equivocating, stop excusing, and start actually DOING the job they keep telling us they're doing.

100% support

I was a corrections officer ,and a Postal employee, I saw on both sides of the streets what drug Prohibition has done to both Black,and poor families.Marijuana is the least of this countries problems Heroin is making a comeback of epic proportions in this country.I with my own eyes as a white man have seen how the illegal Drug trade has impacted all races.I have found one thing in life crooks do not always look like thugs on the street,lately they wear a coat and tie and speak Scat to the public,and turn their back on the little man Black and White while we fall further in the hole,and more people die,because of the Law of Lies.

Drew B's picture

Cab Calloway

I was always under the impression that "A Chicken Ain't Nothing but a Bird" was about marijuana. Namely that the word "chicken" was code for it. Thus he writes a song to throw folks off the trail. I had a number of friends in college in the deep south who used "chicken" as code for such. Anyway…

You mention blogger Mo' Kelly's take, trying to split hairs*. While doing so looks good on paper, so to speak, the fact is in real life, I have to laugh. "On paper" law enforcement is supposed to uphold the Constitution, supposed to not be corrupted by money or power, supposed to keep drugs out of prisons, and a whole host of VERY OBVIOUS separations that are NO WHERE NEAR splitting hairs.

But a quick check over at your news items detailing corruption http://StopTheDrugWar.org/taxonomy/term/76 shows that this is not the case. So trying to impose such hair-splitting on this situation is totally bogus when there are moats and mine-fields which are constantly traversed.

* Ask people on the street what the difference between "civil rights and civil liberties" is and I bet there will be a bunch of blank stares. I know when I first read it I didn't see where he was going.

muggles

In NY police have profiled thousands ( mostly black and hispanic)

they fingerprint and process all these victims and create a database for criminal activity.

All a cop has to do is say " I smell marijuana" and you have no rights
It gives them probable cause.

Marijuana is not a "dangerous drug with no medical value"

you want dangerous drugs? no problem alcohol , Oxycontin , tabacco , aspirin all FDA approved and (safe?)

vote yes
tax and regulate and release all those people you have put in a cage over a benign plant

Prohibition is More Than Mere Racism

Alcohol and drugs are a convenient way to condemn those who enjoy these ever popular products.  It’s a simple matter to pick some item that symbolizes a race, culture, or religion, and then prosecute possession of that item, or its use, in an effort to subjugate the race, culture or competing religious group.

Prohibition Protestants banned alcohol as an excuse to discriminate against ethnic European immigrants and Catholics who enjoyed drinking.  American beverage producers were targeted in part because most pre-Prohibition brewers of beer were immigrant Germans and most commercial distillers of hard liquor were Jews. [Daniel Okrent]

By contrast, today’s marijuana prohibition is a kind of persecution smorgasbord. Marijuana is so popular and its use so diversified across different races and cultures that virtually anyone can be busted employing a thinly veiled ruse that uses cannabis as an excuse to intervene.

The ultimate goal is to serve the persecutors’ need to achieve a superior moral social identity over the condemned group.  This way the self-described morally superior types can hoard all the best jobs and so forth.  As a bonus, the sadomoralists get to cash in on the outgroup’s spilled blood, confiscated funds and property.

This category of human behavior is well described and professionally researched.  It can be found under the subject heading social identity theory.

Giordano

1. muggles 2. lib vs. reich 3. 872,000? 4."It's the tobackgo!"

1. Muggles

Louis Armstrong claimed title as Second Father of his Country by giving his birthday as July 4, 1900, but did you know sources give the actual birthday as August 4, 1901? That makes him exactly 60 years older than Barack Obama.

2. Rights vs. liberties, civil or otherwise

It figures the difference between rights and liberties depends on whether you are right or left-handed. Did you know a huge majority of Presidential candidates starting 1988 have been left-handed? (Sources say both Hoover and Reagan were born left-handed and trans-educated by rightwing parents.) So whether our present is a rare window of opportunity to set precedents hurriedly or a freight train rolling into a leftwing future, anyway there are theories that cannabis liberates the right brain (connected to the left hand) of creativity and intuition, so there you are.

3. Arrest figures

I accept the realist/gradualist persuasion that everything can't happen overnight, Barack is going to let the states take the initiative, etc., but must admit I am in some suspense whether the 2009 arrest figures will bring us a radical cop drop from the 872,000 of 2008, and how the public will react.

4. It's the Tobackgo, Stupid!"

Both Scott's posting and the comments continue to harp on comparisons with alcohol and ignore Big 2Wackgo. Remember, (a) Tobackgo kills 6 million a year, alcohol fewer than 2 million. (b) Big 2WackGo gives twice as much campaign money to Republicans as Democrats and polls show Republican voters 20 points more anti-cannabis-legalization than Democrat voters. (c) Anti-cannabis laws help the tobackgo industry by suppressing what they really fear, vaporizers, one-hitters and other equipment which, if cannabis is legalized, will speedily obsolesce the cash cow hot burning overdose $igarette format which is the basis of the tobackgo industry profit margin. When nicotine addicts learn to imitate cannabis users by "vaporizing" 25-mg. single tokes instead of puffing on 1000-degree F. 700-mg. $igarettes, the industry as we know it today is Toast. (That's code language for totally toked.)

Civil Rights Issue

bull:
Busted in 1969 for one stick of Marijuana, spent 90 days in a mental institution because they said I was crazy.
This happened to be a felony at the time, I was twenty years old and dumber then a sack of stones.
It did stop me from getting the best jobs but I did work for most of my adult life and stayed away from the police, keeping a very low profile, and never advocating the use of drugs.
In todays market I have a hard time affording any drugs, and I still work and keep a low profile, and never advocate the use of drugs because the system from the lawyers to the jailers to the judges to the police are all making a living off the backs of the people.
The prison populations are run by private corporations, so right there we have lost our civil rights.

Maxwood is right that tobackgo kills more people than alcohol

Maybe Big Tobacco does have more to fear from the end of cannabis prohibition than the alcohol industry does.
But I can think of 3 reasons for 'harping' on alcohol. One is that it kills maybe more innocent people than tobacco, which is what we are most concerned with, another is that tobacco takes so long to do it's dirty work, it is more comparable to junk food then to the quick catastrophes that happen when some people are UI alcohol. The third reason is that while I'm not clear on tobacco's psychoactive status, I don't think it's as significant as it is for alcohol and weed, so they are more directly comparable.
But I'm taking your argument that reformers are not paying enough attention to tobacco seriously.

Marijuana should be legal

There are plenty of other reasons why marijuana should be legal. Just to name a few:

Medicinal use: Marijuana can be used as medicine because it helps to stimulate apetite and relieve nausea in cancer and AIDS patients.
Hemp: The hemp plant is a valuable natural resource. Legalizing marijuana would eliminate the confusion surrounding hemp and allow us to take advantage of hemp's agricultural and industrial uses.
Religious Use:Some religions instruct their followers to use marijuana. Just like Christianity and Judaism instruct their followers to drink wine on certain occaisions, some Hindus, Buddhists, Rastafarians, and members of other religions use marijuana as part of their spiritual and religious ceremonies. These people deserve the freedom to practice their religion as they see fit. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that the government cannot 'prohibit the free exercise' of religion, and so marijuana should be legal.

Cannabis prohibition isn't because of race discrimination

Cannabis prohibition was brought about because of massive financial political donations from the multinational 'Legal' drug companies such as 'The Alcohol', 'The Tobacco' and 'The Pharmaceutical' companies, who through these massive donations took control of our governments and eventually started telling the politicians how to vote. Two other large players are the 'Timber industries', and the 'Pest Insecticide industries' . As long as our politicians are getting paid (accepting political donations) from these major multinational corporations we will never see a change in the current dug laws. 

Civil Rights

No man or government has the right to tell me what to do. People will do what they want to do, regardless of unjust laws.

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