Marijuana: illegal for some, celebrated for others

We need to stop putting people of color in jail for using marijuana.


As I hear about more and more people being prescribed medical marijuana and read about cannabis-infused moisturizers becoming a trend, I can’t help but feel frustrated.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that people with anxiety are legally able to treat it with marijuana, and these glamorous lotions are definitely lessening the stigma of marijuana use by widening the demographic of consumers. But we can’t forget about the people who are facing lengthy jail time because of using or carrying the same substance.

According to CityLab, in 2015, African Americans made up 30 percent of the United States’ population, while accounting for 77 percent of marijuana arrests. Meanwhile, white people only accounted for 4 percent of marijuana arrests that same year.

In May 2017, Vogue ran a story with the headline, “How Cannabis Is Fueling a New Fitness Movement” — displaying two slim white women in yoga poses as the featured image. The article described a yoga class in California, where recreational marijuana use is legal.

During the class, the instructor directed participants to “take a puff” from their tetrahydrocannabinol vape pens before getting into their next pose. And after the class, the participants enjoyed cannabidiol-infused cocktails. These chemicals, also known as THC and CBD, are extracted from marijuana plants.

The unfortunate truth is that people of color get thrown in prison for possession of the same substance that’s being glamorized by white people.

“There is absolutely a double standard there,” said Max Weinberg, a sophomore criminal justice major. “People of color are getting mass incarcerated for the same [substance]. It sends the message that white people can get away with [using marijuana].”

And the most devastating part is that most drug arrests are for possessing only small amounts of marijuana, according to data collected by the American Civil Liberties Union from 2001 to 2010. The Drug Policy Alliance found that of the more than 600,000 people arrested in 2016 for marijuana law violation, 87 percent were arrested for possession only.

Chmara-Huff said U.S. law enforcement has always targeted people of color.

“If you look at the history of prohibition, alcohol was seen as the white man’s drug, and marijuana was seen as the Black man’s drug,” Chmara-Huff said. “And while we repealed the prohibition against alcohol, we never repealed the prohibition against marijuana.”

The celebration of consumption of marijuana is simply not fair when people of color are penalized for having or using the drug.

Our justice system is flawed. And while change may not happen overnight, recognizing the gentrification of marijuana use is an important way to stop enabling unfair treatment and to call for legal reform that stops targeting people of color.

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