Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, February 20, 2015

Racial Disparities in Marijuana Enforcement

Despite a New Year's resolution to resume regular posts to this blog, I have somehow managed not to write a single one until now.  Hopefully I'll be able to pick things back up with regular contributions.  

I'll start with this quick link to a guest blog post I wrote for the American Constitution Society's two-week blog symposium on racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.  My post looks at some of the causes of the racial disparity in marijuana arrests and why the problem is so hard to correct.  Here's how my post begins:

In their influential 1970 study of marijuana prohibition in the United States, Richard J. Bonnie and Charles H. Whitebread found that “racial prejudice” was the “most prominent” factor in the passage of early marijuana prohibition laws.  When states began passing these laws in the first few decades of the 1900s, it was not uncommon to see legislatures expressly link marijuana prohibition with race.

 

Reporting on a1929 hearing on a marijuana prohibition bill in Montana, for example, the Montana Standard told readers:

 

“There was fun in the House Committee during the week when the Marihuana bill came up for consideration.  Marihuana is Mexican opium, a plant used by Mexicans and cultivated by Indians.  ‘When some beet field peon takes a few rares of this stuff,’ explained Dr. Fred Fulsher of Mineral County, ‘He thinks he has just been elected president of Mexico so he starts out to execute all his political enemies.  I understand that over in Butte where the Mexicans often go for the winter they stage imaginary bullfights in the ‘Bower of Roses’ or put on tournaments for the favor of ‘Spanish Rose’ after a couple of whiffs of Marihuana.’ Everybody laughed and the bill was recommended for passage.”

 

It is rare to see anyone rely on anything approaching this sort of overt racism in the debate over marijuana laws today.  Indeed, nearly everyone ― prohibitionists and legalization advocates alike ― agrees that racial disparities in marijuana enforcement (and drug enforcement more broadly) are undesirable.  Most also acknowledge the issue is a cause for real concern and action.

 

And yet, disparities in marijuana enforcement persist. 

Click over to the ACS blog for the rest.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2015/02/racial-disparities-in-marijuana-enforcement.html

Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink

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