Is the straight edge community unwittingly helping to enforce a racial caste system in the United States? What effect is the decriminalization of marijuana in cities and legalization of states going to have on crime and poverty?
We know that arrests for marijuana possession is common. What we don’t know is that it is also overwhelmingly the leading cause of incarceration in the country. Once branded as “felons”, offenders jailed for marijuana possession are denied access to employment, trades, public & private housing, food stamps, jury duty, and the right to vote. Even without access to employment, they can even be held accountable for the cost of their incarceration.
In 2010, Michelle Alexander spoke at Demos, a multi-issue policy, research and advocacy group, about her new book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. In it, she contends that the rights and access denied to “felons” are the same denied to the African-American community under the Jim Crow laws of segregation.
In a time when marijuana use is statistically equal across so many social classes and ethnicities, Alexander points out that the gross majority of incarcerations for marijuana possession are people of color. And that not surprisingly, the War on Drugs is generally targeting poorer, predominantly African-American neighborhoods.
Also touched on in the question and answer period is the origin of the War on Drugs as a means of supplying employment to southern working-class white Americans. Overall, the lecture provides an astounding argument for support of removing marijuana possession from its status as a jailable offenses.
Michelle Alexander holds an appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, as well as the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State. She previously worked as director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California.