Overruled


I Haven’t Smoked Pot, and I Feel Left Out
April 3, 2009, 5:45 pm
Filed under: Ian | Tags: , , ,

weedSadly, I’m unable to join the apparently rapidly growing movement to come-out as a pot smoker because I, strangely enough, have never smoked up.  This has less to do with any principled opposition to weed, and more to do with the fact that I was going through a rather sanctimonious period in high school and college where I decided that I would rather act like I was morally superior to my cannabis-loving friends than actually enjoy myself by smoking a bong every now and then.

Now that I’m older and wiser, of course, I’ve learned to direct my sanctimony towards people actually deserving of moral condemnation, and stop pretending that I’m making a virtuous statement by drinking bourbon while my friends get high.

The real reason why we criminalize marijuana in this country has a lot more to do with racism than it does with sound policy.  Around the turn of the 20th century, a wave of Tancredoesque racism rose in the residents of states bordering Mexico, many of whom rested the fact that Mexican laborers were competing with them for farming jobs.  Because marijuana was the drug of choice amongst these Mexican immigrants, several state legislators responded by banning the drug outright.  One Texas lawmaker announced that he supported such a ban because “”[a]ll Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff [marijuana] is what makes them crazy.”

Meanwhile, in the north, marijuana was an important part of the largely African-American jazz music scene, so racists in those parts of the country decided to get in on the action as well.  Because white racists are apparently terribly protective of their shadows, one newspaper editorialized that “[m]arihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.”

Today, of course, much of this legacy lives on through class discrimination.  Years ago, a friend of mine was arrested for  smoking pot while she was out with friends, but because comes from an upper middle class family she was able to find a local attorney who knew her judge, and that lawyer talked his friend into sentencing her to a few days in rehab.  Conversely, federal law permits marijuana offenders unfortunate enough to get charged by federal authorites to be sentence to 30 years in prison.  Indigent clients are far more likely to find themselves in such an unfortunate position, as are racial minorites who become victims of unconscious bias.

So let me add my voice to the chorus of people calling for an end to this non-sensical policy.  I started off by saying that I have never gotten high, but I am the only person I know below the age of 35 who has never gotten high.  It makes no sense to subject the overwhelming majority of young Americans to a rarely enforced law that selects a few unfortunate souls—most of whom are poor, minorities or both—and ruins their life with a lengthy prison sentence.

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