On Jan. 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo, the Obama administration’s relatively passive policy on the enforcement of federal cannabis laws. While pot remains illegal under federal law, the Justice Department chief withdrew federal guidelines that limited prosecutions of businesses and individuals who sold pot in a legal manner, according to Politico.
The California State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, led by President Alice Huffman, announced its “unconditional endorsement” for Proposition 64, a legislative initiative that legalized the recreational use of marijuana in California. Although legalized on Jan. 1, 2018, Sessions’ revoking of the Cole memo still enforces federal law over state law, clouding the criminalization of marijuana.
Huffman said African Americans are disproportionately affected by the criminalization of marijuana, which makes passing the law a civil rights issue.
The former Republican senator once said about the Ku Klux Klan, “I thought those guys were OK until I learned they smoked pot.” Although he said it was a joke, that quote proves to demonstrate that marijuana may be considered a civil rights issue.
The ACLU says that the aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws “needlessly ensnares hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system and wastes billions of taxpayers’ dollars.”
Generations of Americans — particularly Americans of color — have been imprisoned due to non-violent acts such as possession of marijuana.
The increased incarceration of these Americans for such offenses has significantly reduced their access to higher education, housing, economic opportunities, and their inalienable right to vote.
Civil Rights activist, Al Sharpton has branded the criminalization of marijuana as a modern symbol of racism, saying, “Billions of dollars in funding have been diverted from healthcare, jobs, and schools and have entrenched a prison-industrial complex built on a foundation of racism.”
Whites and African Americans abuse drugs at the same rate, as shown by the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
However, African Americans make up more than 29 percent of drug arrests, according to the FBI. Racism may be the most prevalent crime in the justice system.
One in four African American males born in this decade can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as reported by a study conducted by the U.N. Human Rights Committee.
The United States has shifted its taxation priorities by dramatically expanding the jail and prison system. With the statistics being against the people of color in the United States, the mere criminalization of marijuana impedes their rights as U.S. citizens.
As they struggle to find a job due to their past non-offensive criminal charges, one out of every 13 African Americans has lost their right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement.
The decriminalization of marijuana is a civil rights cause. Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department Chief is only a representative of the deep racism embedded in the justice system.