The last three presidents admit they smoked it. Presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gringrich (R-GA) called using it, “a sign we were alive and in graduate school in that era.” Former VP nominee and governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) says she did her share of it. There’s undoubtedly more than just one state legislator who could be arrested for possessing it.
And yet the political consensus is that marijuana should be illegal in the United States.
It’s another example of “Do what we say, not what we do” in politics — from deadbeat dads like Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) to philandering-while-talking-family-values Mr. “It doesn’t matter what I live” Gingrich to the legions of philanderers who slam birth control, abortions, same sex couples for “ruining” marriage and single parents, Washington D.C. is a place where one’s actions, past or present, need not have much to do with the policies one promotes for the sake of one’s continued electability.
And when it comes to marijuana or drug policy, politicians who want to look Tough On Crime are little better then parents who tell their children not to smoke pot or have sex before marriage, after a youth spent smoking pot and having sex.
As it is, 40 percent of Americans admit to the government that they’ve smoked weed — and the real figure is undoubtedly higher (some estimates peg it closer to 60 percent). Walk into any high school or college party, and next to the kids illegally snarfing terrible beer unironically will be a couple more kids splitting a bowl — and it doesn’t end when the party is filled with legal drinkers. Looking to get a security clearance? Even the federal government had to change its initial no-drugs-ever policy to one that accounted for the frequency of experimental marijuana use in the population.
The fact of the matter is that marijuana is ubiquitous, its users include your friends, family, neighbors, children, parents and elected officials, and — regardless of what immorality expert Newt Gingrich calls it — no one thinks potheads are “immoral” — unless they are not white.
Case in point: white people are more likely than almost any other racial grouping to have smoked weed. African-Americans are reportedly far less likely to smoke weed in public than white people, which one would assume is a high-risk factor for arrest. And yet, as the Zimmerman “defenders” made plain earlier this year after Trayvon Martin’s murder, catch an African-American kid with just the smell of weed on his person, and he is suddenly a scary enough criminal mastermind to justify shooting him unarmed.
Marijuana arrests comprised 52 percent of all the drug arrests in American in 2010, and those arrests were disproportionately of people possessing, not distributing, marijuana. But despite the fact that white people are more likely to have used marijuana in their lives and reportedly far more likely to smoke it in public, the arrest rate for white pot smokers is 195 in 100,000 — and for African-Americans, it’s 598 per 100,000. African-Americans represent 31 percent of marijuana arrestees, which is disproportional to even their yearly reported rates of marijuana usage (10.4 percent of white people and 12.5% of African-Americans reportedly smoke in any given year).
In other words: the perception in America’s political class is that white people who smoke weed are experimenters or harmless potheads, and African-Americans who smoke weed are criminals. And that means that African-Americans get arrested at disproportional rates, and politicians make their bones instituting costly and ineffective drug testing requirements for welfare recipients clearly targeted at the stereotype that welfare recipients are overwhelmingly African-American (despite national data that shows that TANF recipients are 31.2 percent white and 33.3 percent African-American, though African-Americans are statistically far more likely to live below the poverty line than whites), and that almost no one in the halls of power is willing to even start a discussion on legalization, medical or otherwise.
Arrest records, even for marijuana possession, can keep young people out of college, keep them from getting jobs, force them into America’s prison industrial complex which does little to safeguard the health and rights of inmates — and all for doing something that almost every major politician in this country admits to doing in his or her youth. The criminalization of marijuana stifles research into its potential health benefits, limits the government’s ability to regulate it the way it does alcohol, prevents it from being taxed and wastes our limited financial resources on sending users through the judicial system. But the only politicians willing to touch it with a ten-foot-poll aren’t Democratic party leaders, the supposedly transformational President or any major Republican. Instead, it’s folks like Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and former governor turned libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, none of whom are likely to be successful at changing a policy no one else wants to talk about.
I expect parents to puff up their chests and tell their kids not to drink, smoke, toke or fuck, all the while knowing those children are likely to do exactly all those things at some point. I don’t elect politicians to be my parents-in-absentia in Washington or my state capital, telling me not to do what they did (or still do) and pretending that it’s inherently dangerous to my health or future despite being the evidence to the contrary.
We all know they do it to look tough on crime — but what they really end up looking is like big hypocrites. And I don’t need to be smoking a joint to see that.
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