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White House Report: War on Weed Targets Race

There are days when I’m blown away by how the Internet has flattened the top-down pyramid of information in the world. The freedom and sharing of cyberspace has led to millions of Americans discovering all sorts of dark, seedy secrets about their government and the nation's history.


Seal of the President of the United States with a background of green cannabis leaves

July 20, 2015

But, in a surprisingly transparent move, the White House has finally decided to open up about this controversial issue of drugs and race in a recent report entitled “Economic Costs of Youth Disadvantage and High Return Opportunities for Change.” This report was published by the Executive Office of the President, which admits that the minority youth of black and Hispanic families face a significant disadvantage when it comes to drug enforcement in the U.S.

Because these young people are often introduced early to the system for minor drug offenses, this puts them at an extremely high risk for unemployment later in life, thus more criminal activity becomes necessary to make ends meet. “A black individual is nearly four times as likely as a white individual to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though black and white individuals reported using marijuana at similar rates,” the report explains.

  body_whitehouse_3infographic via Vox

It also makes clear that arrests for small-time pot possession now makes up over half the drug arrests in this country each year. Such a fact flies in the face of what’s happening with cannabis legalization around the country is strangely sobering, a symbol of the amount of work still to be done to spare black and Hispanic communities the ravages of police harassment.

In branding young people and these areas with criminal records, such targeting policies are seriously eroding urban economic potential and culture from the inside out. There's hardly any imaginable good in allowing nonviolent drug offenders to waste away behind bars because values on the type of drug consumption don't match the generic morality of Congress and evangelicals.

And there's little doubt alcohol and opiates are far more risky substances than marijuana. What’s more, the national report revealed a host of serious indictments against the American justice system, including the for-profit prison model and private cash seizures permitted during drug arrests. Each of these systems uses drug policy and enforcement to make money, thereby incentivizing searches, warrants and all sorts of shady business that reeks of the Jim Crow discrimination. body_whitehouse_1 The politicians and private money so heavily invested in the prison industry know business is good and dividend returns are swift, as revenues increased from over $350 million in the early ‘80s to many billions today. That means taxpayer dollars are also being channeled into the pockets of the same people deciding where those dollars end up.

According to the report, if you invest the thousands of dollars it costs to lockup a juvenile for a year on proactive services like early childhood education, mentorship/counseling programs, technical job training or even free college tuition, those benefits would extend far beyond the individuals kept out of jail.

As a nation who'd rather build prisons than schools, we're doling out huge sums of public funds to private investors for the freedom of others without much dialogue about it. Still, even as you read this, it’s likely someone was arrested for using, growing or selling marijuana. Millions of prisoners sit in cells for possessing a plant that grows wild across the world and has been farmed for millennia, including by our Founding Fathers. There are clearly deep contradictions and division within American cannabis policies – Is this President or the next bold enough to do anything about it?

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+ More on marijuana, American history and the war on weed

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