Support for Decriminalization
T hough the quote below relates to fentanyl, I believe the sentiments in it are true as it pertains to the decriminalization of marijuana, “Most drug arrests don’t target high-level dealers and traffickers.” The harm to African Americans experiencing excessive force, police brutality, and even death far exceeds the benefits.
“Critics may counter that we need police to stop illicit drug sales, particularly those involving the synthetic opioid fentanyl that has contributed to so many recent overdose deaths. But a recent analysis of over 700,000 drug arrests from around the country found that 60% of cases were for less than one gram, an amount roughly equivalent to the sugar substitute provided in a single Splenda packet. Most drug arrests don’t target high-level dealers and traffickers (arrests involving a kilogram or more accounted for less than 1% of all drug arrests in the study), but rather people who use themselves and/or who sell modest amounts. No one wants to see people continue to die from fentanyl-laced street drugs, but this problem, itself borne from prohibition, can be better resolved through harm reduction interventions, not militant enforcement.” (Harris, 2020)
I must admit that when I first heard of the push to legalize marijuana, I was against it. I thought that’s the last thing we need is to make drugs more available. However, now that I understand the scope and impact of the war on drugs on African Americans, I have no choice but to advocate radical, lifesaving changes to America’s system of policing.
Each of the studies that I have cited comes to a similar conclusion about the war on drugs, “Collectively, proactive drug enforcement has normalized overzealous policing, which leads to unnecessary citizen-police interactions that have the potential to escalate. The simplest and most effective way to end, or at least greatly reduce, these encounters is for the federal and state governments to remove their legal basis by decriminalizing low-level drug possession.” (Harris, 2020) I found a twist on decriminalization, however, in a Johns Hopkins study that I would add:
“Decriminalization refers to the removal of criminal penalties for simple possession of a controlled substance. Instead, possession of specified small amounts of a controlled substance result in a civil offense, typically with the penalty of a fine rather than an arrest. In Maryland, efforts are underway to address ineffective and unjust sentencing practices and to improve release and reentry programs. Decriminalization may reduce the need for such efforts by reducing the negative consequences associated with arrests.” (Johns Hopkins, 2015)
This recommendation in the Johns Hopkins study was made in 2015. Though I could not say that there were any cons to the decriminalization of marijuana, I found hope that it did help to support the goal of reducing arrests in a system fraught with “racial disparities”:
“As of February 2016, 18 US states and Washington, D.C. have reduced or eliminated criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana. Decriminalization is intended to reduce drug arrests, which disproportionately affect black communities in Maryland. Preliminary analysis shows that marijuana decriminalization in Maryland has led to a decline in drug arrests in Baltimore City. Furthermore, despite comparable rates of marijuana use among blacks and whites, blacks were arrested for marijuana possession at higher rates in every county in Maryland and these, racial disparities worsened from 2001 to 2010.” (Johns Hopkins, 2015)
As I previously shared in a quote, “Public officials have been relatively untroubled by the disproportionate arrest and incarceration of blacks for drug offenses and their policies.” (Human Rights Watch, 2009) These policies “also reflect conscious and unconscious views about race. Indeed, those views have been woven into the very fabric of American anti-drug efforts, influencing the definition of the ‘drug problem and the nature of the response to it.” (Human Rights Watch, 2009)
Our “public officials,” our political leaders, our law enforcement officials, and to a great extent, many of our religious leaders have not made ending the racial disparities against blacks a national priority, a crisis. I believe this is because, as I have alluded to before, “whites are relatively untouched by anti-drug efforts compared to blacks.” (Human Rights Watch, 2009)
I support decriminalization because our leaders in every arena have failed to come up with a more effective alternative. The president has denied the existence of systemic racism and attributed George Floyd’s death to “a few bad apples.” It’s this type of willing ignorance and indifference despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary that has forced me to support a lifesaving course of action when no other actions but preserving the status quo have been proposed.
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