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Pot Reform’s Race Problem

The fight against marijuana prohibition must put racial justice at the center.

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There are exceptions, however. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), a relatively more racially diverse organization, has committed itself not only to reforming marijuana laws, but also to opposing all drug laws that selectively target people of color. Based in New York City, it played a vital role in dismantling the infamous Rockefeller drug laws and in bringing attention to the New York Police Department’s racist stop-and-frisk policy. 

I should note that I am a current DPA board member. This is less an acknowledgment of conflict or bias than it is evidence to support my point. In 2007, the DPA had two black board members—at least twice as many as other similar organizations. Concerned that this number was still too low, the leadership asked me to join the board. I accepted because the DPA understands that having a token black board member as window dressing is insufficient to effect the type of necessary change I have laid out here.

Combating racially discriminatory marijuana arrest practices will require a team effort across a variety of communities—scientific, advocacy and so on—and it is in this spirit of a shared purpose that I write. But perhaps I can be forgiven for my impatience with organizations that claim to be allies in this fight while also displaying blatant apathy concerning this issue. You see, I am the father of three black sons. I recognize that there is a high probability that they, like their white counterparts, may one day experiment with marijuana. Knowing the potential consequences if they are arrested, I cannot afford to remain silent.

I call on our allies to break their silence on this issue and make racial justice a central part of the fight against pot prohibition. The next generation is counting on you.

 

Carl L. Hart is an associate professor of psychology in the departments of psychiatry and psychology at Columbia University and a former member of the United Nations reference group for intravenous drug use and HIV. He is the author of the new book, "High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society."

 
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