Tag Archives: Vanita Gupta

Civil Rights, Drug Wars, Policy, Washington, DC

(Part 2 , see Part 1 – Our first article is about why African-Americans are less supportive of legalization than outsider groups who are trying to impose it on Washington, DC and elsewhere.)

Discussion of marijuana legalization centers mainly on personal freedom, flaws in the criminal justice system, and a theory that government can regulate it and take profits away from cartels and criminals.  There is no evidence that it is possible to regulate marijuana, and black markets persist in Washington and Colorado.  Since the regulation theory has largely been disproven by the two states and by studies, this article concentrates on criminal justice.

Can anyone truly believe legalizing marijuana would end racial discrimination in America? (Recent evidence in Denver and Seattle after the legalization of marijuana in Seattle suggests that racial discrepancies in arrests don’t end.)  However, these disparities are the main reasons people cite for supporting legalization of pot in Washington, DC.

Taking on the ACLU Positions

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L Lanier addressed the racial divide in arrests in the Washington Post.  Some of her comments specifically responded to a American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report.

Washington, DC, Police Chief Cathy Lanier
Washington, DC, Police Chief Cathy Lanier

“The ACLU also appears not to understand our city very well,” she wrote. “It is, indeed, a sad fact that blacks represent a disproportionate number of arrestees in the District; the proportions are similar for marijuana arrests, for other narcotics and all arrests.  But this is a complex issue that cannot be boiled down to an allegation that MPD (Metropolitan Police) selectively enforces the law against our black communities.”

Lanier points out that police in certain neighborhoods received a higher volume of calls from residents complaining about drugs, and that 59% of the police officers are black, a proportion higher than the city’s population.  Blacks are arrested more for marijuana because they tend to smoke it in public among groups, unlike whites who more often smoke in the privacy of their residence or clubs.

Cathy Lanier is the most popular citywide public figure in Washington, DC, with an approval rating over 70%.

Drug Policy in General

Chief Lanier emphasized that the police department in Washington, DC, is strongly committed to supporting youth.  The goal is to prevent youths from ending up in the criminal justice system for a minor transgression. Since she has been in the police department for 24 years and chief of police for seven, she has first-hand knowledge which the ACLU lacks.  She realizes that where there is already criminal activity, trying to put the marijuana under regulations may mean that criminals would branch out to other forms of crime and selling other drugs.

Much of the country agrees with rehabilitating drug addicts and drug abusers, rather than punishment.  While states vary, the drug treatment model is becoming more prevalent.   Transforming our drug policy rather than adopting complete tolerance and normalization of drugs  is a wiser policy.  The answer is not legalization.

We need a non-partisan national discussion, that considers all sides of the issue.  Mandatory minimum sentences don’t accomplish the goals desired when they were established. Three strikes laws should be abolished.  Prisons-for-profit aren’t allowed in most of the country, but they could also be banned.

“War on Drugs” Rhetoric

The idea that the “war on drugs” is a war on black and Hispanic communities is too simplistic to explain a situation.   The ACLU, which has had an important stake in legalization efforts in Maine and Washington (2 states with low African-American and Hispanic populations), uses this arguments to press legalization of drugs.

Wealthy white drug dealers can probably afford more expensive lawyers than minority drug dealers, a different matter.  Black males have been disproportionately jailed for violating drug laws.  Michelle Alexander, who wrote The New Jim Crow, supports legalization of all drugs.  However, she is now lamenting that legalization has benefited the white males who are now making all the profits.

The cause of racial problems of the United States and drug violence in Central America shouldn’t be seen as one-dimensional issues.  The argument that the violence of drug gangs and cartels is caused by US policy shows a lack of understanding of the nature of drugs.

The drug policy – violence theory also demonstrates a poor understanding of the nature of humanity.  Gangs and cartels are money-making paths that bring profits quickly.  Anyone can be lured into the profit motive without fully thinking of the harm, particularly when a person is young and risky behaviors make it seem exciting.  There is a certain “high” that comes from evading the law.

Criminal businesses will be always be attractive to both the rich and the poor.  Some cartel leaders are well-educated and even rich.  If it were only about income inequality, many would get out of the drug trade sooner.  We need to foster opportunities for the poor, so they don’t see drug dealing as a route out of poverty.  Regardless of circumstances, they’re hungry for power and wouldn’t lose power over people, if pot became legal. They would branch out to other crimes such as human trafficking, and to stronger drugs.

Benicio del Toro in the 2012 film Savages
Benicio del Toro in the 2012 film Savages

 When Drug Wars Occur

Drug wars happen when growers and cartels compete to have the strongest, most potent strains of marijuana.   High-THC plants bring higher profits, but the marijuana industry pretends that government is to blame for the greedy, violent wars between drug cartels.

We can see the violence that comes with the competition in the drug trade in the book and movie, Savages of 2012, with Benicio del Toro.  An earlier movie  Blow, in which Johnny Depp played notorious drug dealer George Jung, tries to illicit sympathy for the criminal who was instrumental in bringing the Columbian cocaine trade to the USA.  It is clear that greed and adventure motivated Jung, without concern about the harmful consequences to others.

Marijuana advocates who say “drug wars don’t work,”  play into current anti-government sentiments.  They say those who don’t agree with marijuana must be taking money from the drug-making companies, the police unions, alcohol industry, the prison or prison guard industry.  Otherwise, how could anyone not believe in their psychotropic drug that has been manipulated — to become stronger and to work medical miracles, as they claim? In their twisted logic, they say the US has created cartel violence in Mexico. Violence of course has many causes including poverty.   On the other hand, there is evidence that cartels have moved out of Colorado into Central America, and are causing our heroin epidemic today.

 

Civil Rights and Drug Policy in Washington, DC

African-Americans in Washington, DC, do not embrace marijuana legalization as readily as whites in DC — by a difference of 18 percentage points. Judge Arthur Burnett, National Executive Director of the National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, observes that opposition among  blacks to legalization stems from experience.  African-American communities already suffer from a liquor store on every corner, and black voters know commercial marijuana would prey on their communities at a much higher rate.  “Do we really want to substitute mass incapacitation for mass incarceration?” Judge Burnett asks.   He spoke along with others opponents to legalization at a Press Conference in Washington sponsored by Two. Is. Enough. D.C. (TieDC).

Judge Arthur Burnett, Executive Director of the National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc., former senior judge for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
Judge Arthur Burnett, Executive Director of the National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc., former senior judge for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

Vanita Gupta is the nominee to head the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice. According to a recent article, Gupta, a former ACLU lawyer, endorses the complete legalization of marijuana in every state, with taxation and regulation.  No DC official is more popular in Washington than Police Chief Cathy Lanier, who contends the ACLU doesn’t understand the city (to be discussed in another article).   Washington residents should vote No on Ballot 71 to legalize marijuana and reject the posturing of outside groups.

Gupta has an impressive resume, but the 39-year old would not be where she is today if she lived by the drug policies she allegedly endorses. Had Gupta partaken in pot culture as a teen, she would not have been accepted into Yale University.  If she had spent young adulthood frequently using marijuana, she wouldn’t have become a successful attorney.

Does she understand the nature of addiction?  Does she understand why every minority group voted against marijuana legalization in California?  We cannot have a national discussion of policy without including a discussion of drug abuse and addiction.

Vanita Gupta
Vanita Gupta, nominated to head the Civil Rights Division in in Department of Justice

Our education about the nature of addiction and what drugs actually do—at all our schools, and at every level–should be top priority.  Here is evidence that was recently published in “Press the President,” which featured National Families in Action’s review of the science that underlies drug abuse and addiction.

Five Unavoidable Statistics

1. Availability drives use. The more available a given drug is, the more people use that drug. The most effective prevention strategy is to keep availability to a minimum.

2. 137 million Americans use alcohol regularly; 67 million use tobacco; 20 million use marijuana.

3. The alcohol industry spent $3.5 billion in 2011 to market and advertise its products; the tobacco industry spent $8.4 billion. A commercial marijuana industry will do the same.

4. Age limits don’t prevent underage use: five of ten new smokers every year are under age 18, eight of ten new drinkers are under age 21. Age limits won’t stop underage marijuana use in legalization states.

5. About half of Colorado’s medical marijuana dispensaries in 2011 were located in one city, Denver. That year, marijuana use among Denver’s middle-school students was double that of middle-school students in the rest of the state; marijuana use among Denver’s high school students was 25 percent higher.

Shocking Facts for Drug Policy-Makers

– It’s not your daddy’s weed. The marijuana of the 60s and 70s contained 2-3 percent THC. Today’s marijuana contains 15 percent THC on average. Marijuana extracts such as Butane Hash Oil contain from 75 to 100 percent THC.

– Colorado pot shops are selling candies, cookies, and soft drinks infused with marijuana. Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers are showing up at emergency rooms because they ate them and overdosed. Some have required intensive care to recover.

– Marijuana is not harmless. A just-published review of 20 years of marijuana research worldwide finds that marijuana can impair adolescents’ intellectual development and ability to perform in school. Use that begins before age 18 can result in an average IQ drop of 8 points, enough to place a person of average intelligence in the bottom third of the IQ scale.

– Using marijuana before driving doubles the risk of having a crash.

– One in six teenagers who use marijuana regularly will become addicted; so will one in ten adults.

– Marijuana use doubles the risk of developing psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia.

Another View — Judge Arthur Burnett

Vanita Gupta has said “The war on drugs has been a war on communities of color.”   There’s a lot she could learn from Judge Arthur Burnett. He spent 31 years as a judge in the District. He doesn’t think legalization would keep young black men out of jail, Marijuana would be more readily available, leading more young people to harder drugs.  Scratch the surface of most homicides and rape cases, and the perpetrators were high on drugs, including marijuana. Marijuana introduces people to a culture where they get drawn into other drugs, though it might not be a gateway for everyone who tries it.

Gupta’s passion for racial fairness is admirable, but she doesn’t seem to have drug culture experience.  Drug use brings pain and misery to the users and families of users.  Gupta needs to understand the limited hope for children who begin drug use at an early age. Being a racial minority it hard enough, but why add another strike against minority youth by advocating a program that would increase their drug usage?