“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”
“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
—Henry Ainslinger (Father of Weed Prohibition)
The California State Assembly recently passed a historic law measure to legitimize the medical pot industry and change it from its current ramshackle non-profit model into a practical commercial entity.
But where does that leave the thousands of California residents with a felony record, many with non-violent drug-related offenses, oftentimes than not, disproportionately African-American and Latino?
Unfortunately with no real means to enter an industry they largely participated in, albeit when marijuana wasn’t the runaway, quasi-legal commodity it is now.
The state of California has recorded more than 198,000 felony marijuana arrests since 2000, according to California chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. In 2014 felony marijuana arrestees in California were 31 percent white, 39.5 percent Hispanic, 18.5 percent African-American and 11 percent of some other demographic, according to the ACLU. African-Americans only account for 5.8% of San Francisco county’s population, with whites accounting for 53.8 percent and Hispanic or Latino’s accounting for 15.3%.
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 charged with 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. In regards to broader arrest data a study published in the journal Crime & Delinquency this 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. (via Huffington Post)
The language in the legislation passed by the State Assembly and presented to Gov. Jerry Brown is vague at best, a product of last-minute negotiation and compromise before the legislative deadline. Nonetheless, Brown is expected to sign it into law.
One could argue that legislators conceded considerable measures to certain influential lobbyist, such as the law enforcement lobby — whose support was crucial in passing the trio of measures before Brown. They were vocally adamant about including measures that kept those with a “questionable” past, meaning, those with a criminal record, barred from being able to sell weed legally.
“We need to make sure that we won’t have people in the industry that don’t have other problems,” said Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale (Los Angeles County), a 28-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol involved in crafting the bills, according to the SFChronicle.
“I don’t think it will create a level playing field,” said California State NAACP president Alice Huffman, who lost her crusade to make the bill more inclusive to those convicted of low-level drug crimes, something many lobbyists were against. “There’s going to be a hole in our community. You can’t look away from that.”
What Huffman is referring to is language in the measure that essential bans those convicted a felony from participating in the cultivation or distribution of marijuana or marijuana-related products. Even in 2017, drug-related felonies are allocated to a disproportionate number of African-Americans and Latinos in relation to their white counterparts.
One bill says that the “licensing authority may deny the application for licensure or renewal of a state license if ” an applicant has a “felony conviction for the illegal possession for sale, manufacture, transportation, or cultivation of a controlled substance.”
Although the phrase “may deny” was used, lobbyists are implying that a person with a felony record, if not outright denied a license to distribute marijuana, would find it incredibly difficult to get one if they appealed.
“If we leave anything up to some bureaucrat, people of color will not get equal treatment. We’re always getting pushed to the back of the line,” Huffman said Wednesday, according to the SFChronicle. “That could be my bias. I could be proven wrong. But if you look at history, it holds up.”
My name is Petey Wheatstraw, also known as Charles Stevens. I’m an avid marijuana smoker, writer, devoted father and non-profit minion– not necessarily in that order. A Chicago native I’ve lived off and on in the Bay Area since 1996. Seven years ago I finally settled here to capture the changing face of our communities.