As the nation staggers in the aftermath of video footage of yet another police killing of an American Black man, news reports confirm that marijuana played a significant role in the shooting of North Carolina resident Keith Lamont Scott.
Drug use, actual or suspected, has been used again and again to dehumanize, scrutinize and blame victims of police state violence. From Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland to Terence Crutcher and now Keith Lamont Scott, there are a multitude of cases where insidious drug war tactics have allowed police to stop, search, arrest, indict, imprison, surveille, criminalize and kill innocent people, destroy families and wreak havoc on communities, mostly Black and Latino.
Today, Drug Policy Action and Brave New Films released an unflinching look at the stark realities of the enforcement of marijuana laws in California. With Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Washington D.C. among the first to legalize, most activists see California as the true tipping point for inevitable federal de-scheduling and legalization.
Although many believe that marijuana has essentially been legal in California because it was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 – it’s not legal yet. On the contrary, a recent report by the Drug Policy Alliance found that despite California’s more permissive marijuana possession laws, the state had nearly 500,000 marijuana arrests between 2006 and 2015. Those arrests disproportionately impacted Latino and Black Californians from more than 2 to 4 times the rate as their white counterparts.
The two-minute piece spotlights how drug possession and particularly discriminatory marijuana law enforcement is used to criminalize people of color and how the criminal justice and sentencing reforms contained in Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act will “set us on a new path” toward reducing mass incarceration.
“By making this film we hope to give Californians a sense of how truly urgent it is to enact sane, rational drug laws that do not unfairly target and oppress communities of color,” Brave New Films founder Robert Greenwald said. “Clearly, the numbers in this film – and the pages of every newspaper, every day - show that the war on drugs has been not only an abject failure but a force for destruction that must be ended once and for all.”
In November, Californians will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 64, which contains groundbreaking sentencing reforms that eliminate or reduce most marijuana offenses. Thousands of Californians can petition to have their sentences reduced and hundreds of thousands more may be eligible for criminal record clearing. The initiative also reduces barriers to entry to the legal market, and drives hundreds of millions of dollars in investments to low-income communities that have been most negatively impacted by the drug war.
Lt. Governor of California Gavin Newsom, one of the most outspoken elected officials in the country in favor of marijuana legalization, said this, “The harms of the drug war are more pronounced than the drug itself.” Moreover, when asked why the DEA refuses to de-schedule marijuana, he said, “Because they lack courage, conviction. Because they are consumed by ideology.” He goes on to criticize his elected peers, “How dare you sit by passively when lives are being destroyed by this war on drugs.”
My colleague Sharda Sekaran said it best, “This must end. The drug war is a racist tool for committing human rights abuses and has given a greenlight to state violence and police corruption. We must legalize marijuana, end the drug war, and make every endeavor to repair the harms caused by decades of this monstrous policy.”
This November, say to the DEA that the racialized history, the harms of drug prohibition and the disparate enforcement of fraudulent drug laws are no longer acceptable. Californians must have the courage and conviction to vote yes on Prop. 64.
Melissa Franqui is the communications and marketing manager for Drug Policy Action.