Marijuana Reform Won’t Fix What Is Broken With Our Criminal Justice System.

We hear it from our allies and progressive friends, to the point it’s become their mantra.  Marijuana legalization will benefit the poor communities, those communities that have been so ravaged by prohibition.  Then the facts come out and we see arrests for minority teens increasing while arrests for white teens has decreased in every State that has legalized cannabis.

Last month, California’s Lt Gov Newsom told a crowd of mostly white well off entrepreneurs at a costly cannabis conference “our purpose is social justice” and “to right the wrong of the abject failure which is our war on drugs in the United States of America.”  It sounds spot on, but words don’t change the hard realities that don’t exist in Newsom’s hamlet of Kentfield, Marin where the 1/10th of 1%, looks down on the 1%.  It’s become very vogue for rich white people to talk about the plight of those our system has not only left behind but have targeted.

Lt. Gov Newsom is correct, but unfortunately for too many, talk is cheap and the realities are not changing on the ground.  For many, it’s getting worse.  Take New York City where Casey Tolan’s recent article highlights such:

“During a November 2014 press conference, police commissioner William Bratton held up a small plastic baggie filled with pot as Mayor Bill de Blasio stood next to him. Anyone found possessing less than 25 grams of pot . . . would only get a ticket and wouldn’t be arrested”

“The number of arrests for marijuana possession over the first six months of 2016 was up by 29% over the same period last year, according to a new report released today by the Police Reform Organizing Project, a watchdog group.

“More than 90% of the people arrested for marijuana possession this year were non white.”

Let that sink in, marijuana arrests are up after being down in New York City and 90% of all arrests where non-whites in a city where whites make up half the population.  In states that have legalized cannabis from Colorado, to Washington and Oregon, we are seeing an increase in arrests for black and latino teens, while arrests for white teens is down dramatically.

The promises are not being meet by the realities on the ground.  As Veterans we are all too familiar with being told the area in front of our eyes isn’t as we see it by brass 5,000 miles away in an air-conditioned office at the pentagon.  So what is going on?

Legalization is not decriminalization and like all laws, they are written by the rich and applied differently to certain demographic groups because whether we are honest or not, the reality is we have made it the job of our police to keep the “undesirable” groups over there away from us.  That is what policing has become, the harassment of those without power for the benefit of those with power and legalization creates a whole lot of new rules for such subjugation to continue.

Whether it’s Eric Garner, choked and killed by the police over selling of cigarettes in New York or anyone of those black or latino teens in Colorado, Oregon or Washington who are not of privilege, the story is the same, the laws are interpreted and applied differently depending on who you are and where you live.

Legalization isn’t the panacea promised and until we address what we are asking the police to do, nothing will change.  Decriminalization is the answer, but then again, how would the police enforce the social and economic mores of those in charge if we didn’t over-criminalize behavior.  Those in charge don’t worry because their money buys them freedom and constitutional rights that are denied to those that can’t afford to be part of as George Carlin said, the “big club” and we are not in that “big club” – Sean Kiernan


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