White Privilege and Weed
When I was a high school senior nearing my graduation, I had an afternoon run-in with the law. It was a beautiful day in midwest suburbia for party hopping, and I had graciously offered to transport the beer supply from one venue to another. In transit, I got delightfully ripped with a friend. Such is youth.
But because my youth was of the predominantly white, upper-middle class variety, when I got pulled over for exceeding the 25 mph speed limit, my experience was tame.
Despite the probably lingering odor of weed, despite my passenger hiding his open beer under his seat, despite a trunk full of beer, I got off with essentially a warning and a call to mom, who came to pick me up.
White privilege operates mostly by what doesn’t happen to white people. Like getting busted for weed.
The ACLU recently put out a study showing the racial similarity in marijuana use and the glaring disparity in enforcement:
African Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites, even though they use the drug at similar rates, according to a new analysis of federal data from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Overall between 2001 and 2010, there were more than 8 million marijuana arrests, 88 percent of which were for possession. These arrests account for more than half of all drug arrests. Since 1990, marijuana possession arrests have increased 193 percent, tracking the spike in overall drug arrests and an inflated national prison population. But the increase in marijuana arrests has come almost entirely from increased arrests of blacks. While arrests of whites have remained largely constant since 2001, the arrest rate for blacks has spiked 32.7 percent
The racial component of the war against weed is clear. But if that argument isn’t enough, how about the impact on this aging white guy, Frank Dennis Peters:
A South Carolina man could face years in prison for drug trafficking after investigators found 137 marijuana plants growing in his backyard last month. The catch? He says he was growing the plants for his ailing wife.
“I have a moral obligation to make my wife as comfortable as possible,” Frank Dennis Peters, 66, told the Beaufort Gazette.
The sole caregiver for his wife of 40 years, Peters said marijuana helped her cope with her many medical issues, including fibromyalgia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the Gazette reported. The drug helped her sleep and increased her appetite, he told the paper.
Investigators came to Peters’ home on May 30 after receiving a tip from neighbors that marijuana was growing on the property, the Gazette reported. Peters, who said his neighbors knew about the plants and weren’t bothered by their presence, told the Gazette he believed a neighbor’s guest alerted the police. Peters confirmed the plants were marijuana, and told authorities they were used for personal and medicinal uses. Though medicinal marijuana is legal in South Carolina, it has to be purchased through the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control — something no one has done since the law was passed in 1980.
The inevitably of legalizing cannabis = aging Baby Boomers. That will be the deciding factor. The war on drugs has been racially deployed from the beginning, and white privilege has shielded users for decades. If enforcement for white people happened at the same rate as black people, cannabis would already be legal.