It’s been quite a day in America. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer took to the Senate floor this morning and called for the legalization of cannabis, in large part because of how those laws are weaponized against black and brown people:
It’s as appropriate a time as any to take a hard look at our laws that have over-criminalized the use of marijuana …
The war on drugs has too often been a war on people, particularly people of color.
For decades, young men and women, disproportionately young men and women of color, have been arrested and jailed for even carrying a small amount of marijuana—a charge that often came with exorbitant penalties and a serious criminal record, from which they might never recover. Being rejected from job after job—because of this minor, minor deviation from the law, which was listed as a serious criminal record. It makes no sense and it’s time for change. …
In state after state, through ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments, the American people are sending a clear message that they want this policy changed.
Academia’s answering the call. For instance, Kimberly Sue, MD, PhD, Medical Director of the National Harm Reduction Coalition at the Yale School of Medicine, sent her message for policy change today:
And by day’s end 12 Americans – We the Jury – sent their message of change with their unanimous verdict of guilty of Derek Chauvin, a white cop, for murdering George Floyd, an unarmed black man. Importantly, Chauvin’s defense team tried but failed to convince the jury of an old trope: that it wasn’t their client’s 9 minute slow-motion suffocation of Mr. Floyd that killed him; rather, it was Floyd’s drug use that was the real culprit – their client was simply defending himself.
We may laugh at – or hold in contempt – that age-old association of black men, violence, and drugs, but 19 years ago this month that very defense succeeded in the stunning acquittal of four LA cops – three of them white – for their near beating to death of Rodney King, another unarmed black man, an acquittal that resulted in riots across the city.
And just two years after that, in 1994, the Clinton administration passed their infamous 3-strikes crime bill that ushered in the “tough on crime” era that escalated the war on drugs and gave us mass incarceration: Despite making up close to 5% of the global population, the US grew to having nearly 25% of the world’s prison population, which includes an unconscionable 40,000 people locked up for cannabis offenses last year – while the cannabis industry thrives.
There’s a lot of understandable hope in the United States today because of the march towards cannabis legalization and because of the verdict. But as Robert Reich soberly reminded us just a few hours ago:
It will ultimately be, in the words of Chuck Schumer, left up to all Americans – We the People – to keep “sending a clear message that they want this policy changed.”