by Maximilian Eyle
It’s 2019 and minorities are still being disproportionately targeted by the enforcement of marijuana laws. Because many states have legalized it, there is a misguided assumption that “people aren’t arrested for marijuana anymore”. This is patently untrue. Nearly 600,000 people were arrested in 2017 for marijuana possession. That’s one arrest every 48 seconds. Members of the black and Latino communities continue to be targeted by law enforcement at much higher rates than white people – despite equal rates of drug use. Part of the problem is that many voters today simply do not realize that this is still happening.
Whether or not you use marijuana, you should be concerned about the amount of lives destroyed by these arrests. Having a criminal conviction makes it very difficult to find a job, apply for a loan, or live in public housing. In cases involving marijuana, the arrest will almost certainly do more harm than the drug itself. Furthermore, a tremendous amount of police time and resources are spent handling these cases. Wouldn’t we rather that our police dedicated themselves to catching violent criminals rather than chasing a teenager who decided to smoke a joint?
10 states have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use, and 33 states plus Washington D.C. have enacted medical marijuana legislation. Despite this, the War on Marijuana is far from over. Tragically, it is still in many ways a War on Black and Latino people. The NYPD announced in 2014 that they would stop arresting people for “low level marijuana possession”, and yet from January to March of 2018 – there were nearly 4,100 arrests for marijuana possession. Of that number, 93% were black or Latino. This is indefensible.
Anyone following the development of drug policy over the past decade understands that the day is rapidly approaching when the federal ban on marijuana will be lifted. New York State is now surrounded by areas where marijuana is legalized, (Canada, Massachusetts, and Vermont so far). But this is little comfort to the many thousands of mostly black and Latino people who are still being locked up or at least harassed for marijuana charges. It’s time we let our politicians know that enough is enough.
Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He works as a media consultant and writes each month about a variety of issues for Spanish-language papers across New York State. Maximilian has a love of Hispanic culture and learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.