By Stacey Patton and David J. Leonard
Has the new year started out on a high or a drugged-out low? The decriminalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado has been heralded as the end of prohibition — and alternately lamented as the rock-bottom of America’s morality.
But few have acknowledged the obvious: The media’s images of mostly scruffy-looking, smiling people, lined up to score some newly legal dope, are overwhelmingly white.
Now imagine the reaction — from the media, your mother and the Justice Department — if these lines were filled with young Hispanics or African Americans with cornrows, do-rags and sagging pants? We can almost hear the conversation shifting from warnings about the health risks of the munchies to panic over marijuana as a “gateway drug” — and the violence, gang activity and criminality it sows.
What’s happening in Washington and Colorado isn’t a shift so much as a formalization of what has long been a reality: If you’re white, you can do drugs with relative impunity. No one law or state initiative will be the nail in the coffin of America’s failed war on drugs — and sadly, black and Latino Americans will continue to get locked up while others are getting high.