It’s not clear that “legalize it” will help much of anyone other than rich white entrepreneurs and affluent tokers.
The news last May was unambiguous: in Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, pot-related arrests were down 8 percent for white adolescents aged 10 to 17 between that year and 2014, and up 58 percent for black and Latino youth the same age, according to the Colorado Department of Public Safety. The growing theme of legalization is and was clear: leniency and riches for Steve, continued prison for LaQuan.
The report set of a mini wave of stories and posts, but little else.
Legalization remains a popular idea—61 percent of Americans support it according to a recent CBS News poll, and 88 percent support legalizing medical marijuana use. Seven states plus the District of Columbia allow the possession of marijuana for recreational use. A total of 29 allow medical dispensation. And the industry is on track to rake in $20 billion in sales by 2021.
But with the ongoing criminalization of people of color, including children and teenagers, for whom possession remains illegal in states like Colorado, plus the general black-brown lockout from dispensary business, it’s not clear that “legalize it” will help much of anyone other than rich white entrepreneurs and affluent tokers. Colorado’s racial disparity in arrests is echoed in Washington State and elsewhere, where the pre- and post-legalization rates of arrests of white and black defendants haven’t changed much at all.
Most states bar anyone with the felony drug conviction from getting the licenses needed to sell cannabis legally, meaning the brothers on the corner who perfected pot entrepreneurship get to stay on the corner and watch slick players flush with Silicon Valley cash sweep into their state and take over the dispensary business, while trying not to get arrested. And as the industry grows, it develops its own imperatives to crack down on the illegal dealers, to keep them from undercutting their prices. And thus, the high-end dispensaries become allied with the police in cracking down on the very people legalization was supposed to save.