By Doug Porter
So, today is national stoner day. You know, 4/20, dude. Californians will likely be voting to Legalize It in November, though it’s not certain at this point what language will be approved.
Legalizing pot won’t free it from its long history of association with racism, and we need to talk about it. And I’ll share some of the fun 420 coverage from around the state.
The criminalization of marijuana use has its origins in the profound racism of Western culture. Early anti-drug laws in California were prompted by influxes of Chinese, Arabs and Sikh immigrants. Marijuana came to be associated with Mexicans.
Harry Anslinger, made commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics after alcohol prohibition failed, was one of the driving forces behind pot prohibition. He pushed it for explicitly racist reasons, saying, “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men,” and complaining about “its effect on the degenerate races.”
Enforcement of marijuana laws across the board in states with differing laws disproportionately affects people of color.
From the Huffington Post:
According to a 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union, blacks across the nation were nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, despite data that suggested they use the drug at about the same rate. In some states, blacks were up to six times more likely to be arrested. This disparity isn’t new, and plays into broader arrest data: A study published in the journal Crime & Delinquency this month found that by the age of 23, nearly 50 percent of black males have been arrested, compared to 44 percent of Hispanic males and 38 percent of white males.
In all, around 750,000 people are arrested for marijuana each year, with more than 650,000 of them for possession alone. (The U.S., of course, incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other nation in the world.)
The legacy of Ansliner’s racism continues to this day, even in states where recreational use of marijuana has been legalized.
From the Washington Post:
Marijuana legalization is often touted as a sure route to ending racial disparities in pot-related arrests. But a just-released study indicates that African Americans in legalization states continue to endure marijuana arrests at a higher rate than people of other races.
Mike Males, a senior research fellow at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, compared marijuana arrest data from before and after the 2012 legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington. Arrest rates tumbled in both states from 2008 to 2014, dropping by 90 percent in Washington and 60 percent in Colorado.
But the racial disparity in arrests didn’t budge. In both states the post-legalization arrest rate for blacks was just over double that for non-blacks, just as it was before legalization.
Of course, arrests do usually involve police and there are some who say the law enforcement profession has a racism problem. But as police chiefs around the country are wont to say, the problem lies with those ‘other guys’. The statistics say otherwise.
In addition to the racism baked into much of law enforcement, the laws concerning legalization of marijuana have their own discriminatory traps.
Even though research shows people of all races are about equally likely to have broken the law by growing, smoking, or selling marijuana, black people are much more likely to have been arrested for it. Black people are much more likely to have ended up with a criminal record because of it. And every state that has legalized medical or recreational marijuana bans people with drug felonies from working at, owning, investing in, or sitting on the board of a cannabis business. After having borne the brunt of the “war on drugs,” black Americans are now largely missing out on the economic opportunities created by legalization…
…Even without a criminal record, black people looking to get involved in legal weed face major obstacles. Sarah Cross, the chief operating officer of Green Rush Consulting, estimated that it takes at least a quarter of a million dollars to start a legal marijuana business. After centuries of systemic discrimination in housing, employment, and education, black Americans are far less likely to have or be able to raise that kind of money. Small business loans are out of the question, because banks are insured by federal agencies, and the federal government still considers cannabis illegal.
Today’s marijuana racism goes beyond Trumpy cranks on social media. The folks at SnapChat thought it would be cute to have their “420 Photo Filter” transform posers into a Blackfaced Bob Marley.
Don’t Smoke the Okra
It’s considered likely that the Drug Enforcement Administration will reclassify marijuana in the coming months, taking it down a notch from its Schedule 1 status and making it less of a priority.
In the meantime, the hunt for the killer weed continues.
From the Washington Post:
The Drug Enforcement Administration’s controversial cannabis eradication program continued apace in 2015, new numbers released by the administration show. In 2015, local, state and federal authorities uprooted roughly 4.1 million cultivated marijuana plants in all 50 states, down slightly from the haul of 4.3 million plants in 2014.
Federal spending on the program remained at $18 million, consistent with levels seen in previous years. That works out to a cost-per-plant of $4.42, up slightly from a cost of $4.20 per plant in 2014 (yes, really).
The DEA’s program provides funding to 128 state and local law enforcement agencies to aggressively search for, seize and destroy illegal marijuana grows across the country.
Much of the money for the program comes from the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund, a controversial program in its own right. In many states, the eradication program money is used to fund aerial operations involving helicopters scouring the countryside for marijuana. Sometimes, overzealous or untrained officers seize perfectly legal plants, like okra, mistaking them for marijuana.
The History of ‘420’
For those of you unfamiliar with the term ‘420,’ the San Francisco Chronicle has an updated version about the groovy kids from Marin County that supposedly started it all.
Devotees will insist that 420 is the penal code section for marijuana use, or the police radio code for marijuana smoking in progress, or the number of chemical compounds in marijuana, or that April 20 is the date that Jim Morrison died. Unless it was Jimi Hendrix, or was that Janis Joplin?
All these theories, and dozens more, are wrong, wrong, wrong.
For the record, 420 of the California penal code refers to obstructing entry on public land. The number is not a police radio code, and the number of chemical compounds in marijuana is 315, according to the folks at High Times magazine, who should know. Morrison died on July 3, Hendrix on September 18, and Joplin on October 4.
According to Steven Hager, editor of High Times, the term 420 originated at San Rafael High School, in 1971, among a group of about a dozen pot-smoking wiseacres who called themselves the Waldos. The term 420 was shorthand for the time of day the group would meet, at the campus statue of Louis Pasteur, to smoke pot.
So Cal 420 Coverage
The OBRag went with an informative story by a certain Old Hippie, A Celebration of the “Last 420” Before Legalization in California.
It looks like the main initiative on the California ballot that everyone and the money are piling on is the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which would allow Californians 21 and older to possess and use up to an ounce of marijuana, prohibit advertising targeting minors and would impose a 15% tax on retail sales of the drug. The cultivation, distribution and sale of recreational marijuana would be regulated by the state, and exporting marijuana out of California would be prohibited.
So, doesn’t it make sense to celebrate the “Last 420” before the legalization today? You betcha.
The Union Tribune opted for a handy-dandy infographic slide show with plenty of charts and pot porn for 420 celebrants. (On-Line edition, only)
James Queally at the Los Angeles Times wrote about the world’s fastest stoner, starting the story with a participant in the ‘420 Games’ losing his way along the race course but winning anyhow:
Just moments before, Chris Barnicle had a commanding lead in a 4.2-mile race that snaked along the beach and through Venice. Now, he had a sudden case of: Dude, where’s my finish line?
Barnicle had sped so far ahead of the pack that there were no other runners or race officials in sight, no signs leading the way. Still, a casual observer might wonder whether his current predicament had less to do with signage than with the marijuana coursing through his body.
Barnicle wiped the sweat-matted hair out of his face — and diversion be damned — ran at a pace that challenged the image of the stoner as sloth-like and stationary. The former NCAA All-American burned through an extra quarter-mile, crossing the finish line from the wrong direction.
At the Orange County Register, they’ve got the “420 Marijuana Quiz to See if You’re a Herb Nerd.”
Sample Question: Which of these celebrities is associated with supporting weed?
- Willie Nelson
- Morgan Freeman
- Frances McDormand
- All of the above
At San Diego City Beat they’ve got a whole issue on the topic, with columnist Edwin Decker wanting us all to agree that this 420 infatuation is kind of dopey and Alex Zaragoza suggesting What to Do and Not Do When Hi af:
Obviously, when you’re high af, you want to eat the entire planet’s worth of snacks in one sitting. But any stoner will share a story about a time they took the snackage way too far. One friend ate an entire tub of vegan cheese. Another ordered $75 worth of food from Taco Bell. If you go to Taco Bell you know that is a fuck ton of food. Like more than any one person should ever eat. I once took down an entire box of Fudgsicles. When a bit dropped on my exposed stomach, I just picked it off and ate it. To be fair, I do that regardless of whether I’m under the influence of the dank shit.
Even the gang at Voice of San Diego is getting into the spirit of the day, hosting a live
potcast, er, podcast at The Whistle Stop Bar in South Park. (6pm Wednesday, 4/20. RSVP. No admission, but beer drinking encouraged.)
On This Day: 1914 – The Ludlow massacre: Colorado state militia, using machine guns and fire, killed about 20 people—including 11 children—at a tent city set up by striking coal miners. 1916 – Chicago’s Wrigley Field held its first Cubs game with the first National League game at the ballpark. The Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 7-6 in 11 innings. 1992 – In London, a memorial concert was held for Freddie Mercury (Queen). Elton John, Guns N’ Roses, Roger Daltrey, Liza Minnelli, David Bowie, George Michael, Def Leppard, and Spinal Tap performed.
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