I will live a long time and not forgive the Internet for making me read David Brooks’ New York Times weed opus.
If you missed it, I apologize in advance.
This week Brooks responded to Colorado and Washington state’s recent decriminalization of marijuana with a retrospective on his own experience smoking the wacky tobacky. In “Weed: Been There. Done That,” Brooks makes a case for a “moral ecology” that curbs individual freedom for the collective betterment of potheads who would be better served devoting their energies to higher aspirations like running track.
If you think I’m minimizing his argument to be glib, I dare you to read his piece. That is his argument. He is dismayed by legal marijuana’s base “moral ecology,” arguing that a healthy government “encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.” It’s typical PREAM linkbait. But in linkbait there are often unexamined body counts, and the bodies are often brown.
Last summer the ACLU released a report, based on federal arrest data and self-reporting, that examined racial disparities in marijuana arrests. It found that more than half of all drug arrests in 2010 were for marijuana possession. Self-reports of drug usage show that Whites use marijuana just as much as Blacks, yet Blacks are more than 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana use.
Racial disparities in arrests and sentencing guidelines have largely focused on the egregious legal distinctions made between powder cocaine and its derivative form of crack cocaine. Crack is disproportionately used by poor and minority drug users, and powder cocaine is largely a wealthy, White recreational drug. (Michelle Alexander does a great job of detailing the devastating effects of this racialized and classed distinction on African-American communities.) But the racial discrepancies in marijuana arrests are just as significant. For example, the ACLU makes a passing mention of the link between federal student aid and drug convictions in its report—African-Americans, particularly African-American men, are more likely to be arrested for recreational drug use and consequently barred from receiving financial aid to pay for college after paying their debt to society.