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BUSINESS EXCHANGE: Let's Legalize Pot!

William Reed | 2/5/2014, 3 p.m.

President Obama recently made perhaps the strongest endorsement by any sitting president on relaxing marijuana laws. Obama acknowledged that in its effect on consumers, marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol. He also noted the obvious racial and economic disparities in enforcement of marijuana laws. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “And African-American and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” Now that the president has given the “go-head” maybe Black voters will feel “empowered” enough to lift this four-decade plague from our communities.

We who demand cessation of these arcane laws are not alone. Recent polls show a clear majority of Americans support legalizing pot. They show that the majority, 56 percent of the public, is in favor of legalizing and regulating marijuana, and 47 percent are in favor of taxing cannabis. According to a American Civil Liberties Union report, there were 8 million marijuana arrests in the U.S. from 2001 to 2010. These arrests were anything but colorblind: Eighty-eight percent were for possession, a crime for which Black Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested than Whites. While White and Black Americans use marijuana at roughly similar rates, their arrest rates are nowhere near comparable. According to the American Bar Association, African Americans represented 14 percent of drug users (and of the population as a whole), yet accounted for 34 percent of all drug arrests and 53 percent of those sent to prison for a drug offense. Across the world, many think that the time of the “War on Drugs” has passed. A Global Commission on Drug Policy report admits the war on drugs around the world has failed, and that in fact, consumption has increased.

Seventeen states, including D.C. now have legislation that, at least, allows the use of medical marijuana. Seven states have similar, and expanded, legislation pending. The problem is that federal law and state laws are in conflict. This is a state's rights issue and it's time for the federal government to quit playing "Big Brother" and overstepping its bounds. It is time Congress acted to decriminalize the use of marijuana and Black voters should lean on their political representatives to do so.

The War on Drugs is biased and unfair in regards to Black Americans. The war on us has cost over a trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of Black lives lost. Since tough drug laws were enacted, drugs’ availability has increased. In a time America needs to cut spending, why do we allow this continuing expense and burden when we could get a return on taxes?

The cost to jail non-violent drug offenders averages about $47,000 per year. This fact is causing a massive drain on state budgets. And because Medicaid covers medical care for prisoners it is a burden to that program as well. Fifty-one percent of all incarcerations are for drug offenses and less than 10 percent of those offenses involved violence. If marijuana was decriminalized, and non-violent offenders released, the nation’s prisons would be relieved and downsized.

The reason Blacks need to, at least, decriminalize marijuana is the racial disparity in drug laws and their enforcement. Blacks are 57 times more likely than any other group to be incarcerated for crimes involving drugs, but they only make up 15.4 percent of drug users arrested. Whites make up 83.5 percent of those charged with drug violations, but Whites are not likely to go to jail.

Blacks must stop blithely accepting the War on Drugs and its consequences. Blacks are the biggest losers of all in the disastrously failed and flawed drug war. The scales of American justice are skewed against Black Americans. President Obama is late to acknowledge drug war ills regarding us. Most Blacks missed it when former Rep. Ron Paul introduced a bill back in the 111th Congress that decriminalized federal laws on marijuana.

William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via the BaileyGroup.org.

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