And like possession arrests, arrests for selling marijuana show broad trends: The sellers who the cops catch are mostly male, more than half are under 24, and black people are arrested at four times the rate of whites, even though whites are up to 32 percent more likely to sell the drug.
The risk is that, by itself, legalizing marijuana possession changes none of this and that, even as legalization spreads, young black men will continue to be arrested at disproportionate rates for selling the drug. Why is a black market that was supposed to be vanquished still thriving? In short: economics. Judging the size of a black market has always been a tenuous endeavor. There are a few basic reasons for this.
This increases the resale of medical marijuana on the street. Second, there are the plants that are grown for personal use, which are allowed under the law. Like Vasquez, and without prompting, Gallardo pinpoints the issue as one of price. In Colorado stores, prices are higher than on the street, Gallardo explains, leaving space for dealers to make a profit while still undercutting the legal market. Compared with the three years before legalization, the three years since show a decline in distribution arrests of only 36 percent.
And that number should probably be even lower: After the law first passed, Vasquez says, some police officers backed off on making any marijuana arrests, choosing a hands-off approach until they had more clarity about what exactly what was legal under the new rules. Off the top of his head, Gallardo says, he could name four marijuana dispensaries within walking distance. In his office at the University of Washington, surrounded by books lining three walls from floor to ceiling, Bill Rorabaugh is every inch the historian.
With white hair, wire glasses, and a grandfatherly crinkle around his eyes, he smiles and leans back in his chair. Instead, early in his career, Rorabaugh studied alcohol, especially in the pre-Prohibition era, and wrote his first book, The Alcoholic Republic. But in the course of that research, a man came to his attention who seemed to understand black markets especially well—and how to end them.
He was Rear Admiral Luther E. Gregory, and he held the solution to a much earlier black market in Washington state. The beneficial effects predicted by prohibition boosters—from reduced crime and mental illness to lower taxes—had not wholly materialized. Instead, violent gangs had taken over the supply chain as well as significant swaths of U. Speakeasies sprang up as quickly as the police could close them down, and gangsters massacred opponents in the streets.
In the throes of the Great Depression, legislatures all over the country were also beginning to see alcohol as a way to fill state coffers. Everyone wanted to bring liquor back—and the lawmakers wanted to do it with a hefty tax. The only problem was that the bootleggers were well established, and fixing prohibition meant finding a way to force illegal operations to go straight or close their doors. Critically, Martin gave Gregory carte blanche to mold the new policies as he saw fit. Gregory took up the challenge—and surprised everyone. Third, Gregory punished anyone who broke the rules—even once—with an iron fist, blacklisting them from ever making or selling alcohol in the state again.
Predictably, this caused some turmoil in a legislature anxiously awaiting an infusion of cash from liquor sales, but the governor backed Gregory. Faced with a low cost of entry and legal profits, bootleggers and speakeasies around the state mostly turned legitimate. Meanwhile, the few remaining stragglers were quickly put out of business, and drinkers flocked to a competitive legal market.
After holding down taxes—and thus prices—for three years, Gregory abruptly raised taxes so much that they were among the highest in the nation. The price of booze went up, of course, but people kept buying legal liquor and beer. There was no alternative left.
Gregory had broken the back of the black market. Gregory knew that margin was where bootleggers lived, and shrinking it would leave less room for them to undercut legal prices and still turn a profit. When Vermont commissioned the RAND Corporation to put together a survey of the different scenarios for legalizing the drug in their state, the policy research behemoth referenced the approach Gregory used as one possible option.
Although the report pointedly stopped short of making recommendations, it emphasized the importance of making the legal retailers competitive with the black market. Costs of entry to the legal market matter, as do prices. And for a policy movement that promised to reform criminal justice, perhaps the most important lesson to take from Gregory is that a disincentive from the state is infinitely more effective when coupled with positive and easily accessible rewards for following the rules. One looming unknown pointed out in the RAND report was exactly how much of a premium consumers would be willing to pay to buy marijuana from a legal store.
Only one survey had been conducted, the report said, a small poll of Washington-state residents who self-identified as marijuana users. But despite their lack of specificity, the results paint a plausible picture: a market split between a slim majority of users willing to pay more in a legal store and a smaller but still significant portion who are relatively happy buying on the black market. In perhaps the ultimate historical nod to the admiral, legislatures in both Washington and Colorado independently lowered taxes in both states last year, explicitly citing the goal of putting pressure on illegal markets.
But both moves were small. The move itself also acknowledges a more worrying possibility. In a classic case of diminishing returns, if even 75 percent of smokers can be enticed into the legal market, a state will capture the majority of the possible revenue from marijuana. But if the Washington survey is even generally right, creating a system that entices every buyer to participate would require setting taxes so low that revenue from the whole system would plummet.
For states, eradicating the last stubborn traces of the black market may in fact carry little positive incentive.
Yet, even acknowledging such a policy for what it is—a plan for half success—the insidious temptation is that from the outside, the failure built into it looks almost inevitable. After all, getting 75 percent of smokers to go legal is pretty good, right? In fact, the question of eradicating the black market goes as deep as the roots of crime itself. In Seattle, a few feet off the corner, Terry explains that he started selling weed when his mom lost her job.
He knew it was possible, he knew how it worked, and he knew he could make money doing it. He was Soon he had a child and, always, there were bills to pay. As Terry and others on the corner talk, a picture starts to emerge of dealing as a kind of safety net. A few mention having jobs, and when Terry says that the hotel where he works might be hiring, another man quizzes him for details. Some on the corner are clearly in the game for something more than diaper money. While Terry and D. Flashing a grin, he says selling weed lets him support four girlfriends.
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But for Terry and the others who share the corner with him, the day is short on glamour. After the young man with the SUV and the scale leaves, they go back to what they were doing—taking turns calling out muted offers to the faces walking past, occasionally making a sale, and treading the line between gossip and trash-talking to pass the time. Legalization pinched dealers, D.
The Failed Promise of Legal Pot
In one form or another, marijuana legalization is coming, almost without a doubt. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, 16 have decriminalized it, and seven allow medical use of the drug. Altogether, 27 states have relaxed their laws on the drug, and President Obama himself, speaking to Vice last March, admitted that if enough states legalized marijuana, it would be natural for Congress to consider removing it from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act—a move that would amount to overnight legalization nationwide.
Less than a month later, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders floated the idea of de-scheduling the drug at the last Democratic presidential primary debate, and no one batted an eye. It would be a mistake to call marijuana legalization a failure, even in the loosest sense of the word. After all, nationally, just fewer than one in eight marijuana arrests on average are for distribution; the other seven are for simple possession. That means seven Coloradans who could have lost everything—from their jobs to their housing to their college financial aid—as a result of an arrest or conviction will instead simply go about another day of their ordinary lives.
But the persistence of that eighth arrest—the roughly Those few distribution arrests cause the majority of marijuana-related incarcerations, and still disproportionately affect black men. Far from being bothered, the young men barely seem to notice. They know their customers are out there, and they are content to wait. A larger but still familiar cycle is also at play. A few weeks later, as summer is winding down, Seattle police conclude a buy-bust operation months in the making—focused on the corner.
Nearby shop owners and residents had complained. The young men made them feel unsafe, hanging around late into the night, offering drugs, and making catcalls. The police go so far as to close nearby alleys, where sales had been occurring, and over two days arrest 20 people for sales of all types of drugs, including nine marijuana sales. Of the 24 people targeted in the sting, 20 are black. The neighborhood is 75 percent white. Legalization has changed the black market.
Gallardo points out that, in Denver at least, it is neither as large nor as violent as it used to be. People seem less fearful of arrest, but it still happens. And, Gallardo says, the police still seem to use marijuana raids as a tool whenever they want to crack down on a particular corner or block. Or, as a Drug Policy Alliance report puts it, noting that black Coloradoans continue to be arrested for marijuana at 2. The stores and the street also attract different sorts of people, Gallardo says.
And in most urban centers, the people with the least are also usually people of color. Listening to Gallardo, the risk begins to sound not so much like one of outright failure, but of a success rendered hollow by its unequal distribution. The new system has clearly not replaced, or even threatened, corner dealers either in Washington or Colorado. Rather, they fit into the cracks of a new world, where middle-class stoners are able to engage in a favorite pastime without fear of prosecution, and an expensive legal market keeps everyone else looking for a bargain.
How a racist hate-monger masterminded America’s War on Drugs
The result: Small-time, under-the-table dealing remains lucrative enough to entice young black men to cross the line, to be arrested far more frequently than their white peers. Most plea bargains consist of promise of a longer sentence if a person exercises their constitutional right to trial. As a result, people caught up in the system, as the American Bar Association points out, plead guilty even when innocent.
As one young man told me recently, "Who wouldn't rather do three years for a crime they didn't commit than risk twenty-five years for a crime they didn't do? The U. The longer the sentence, the more likely it is that non-white people will be the ones getting it. A July report by the Sentencing Project found that two-thirds of the people in the US with life sentences are non-white. Thus black boys are five times and Latino boys nearly three times as likely as white boys to go to jail.
Remember that the US leads the world in putting our own people into jail and prison. The New York Times reported in that the US has five percent of the world's population but a quarter of the world's prisoners, over 2. The US rate of incarceration is five to eight times higher than other highly developed countries and black males are the largest percentage of inmates according to ABC News. Even when released from prison, race continues to dominate.
Race is so prominent in that study that whites with criminal records actually received better treatment than blacks without criminal records! So, what conclusions do these facts lead to? The criminal justice system, from start to finish, is seriously racist.
Professor Michelle Alexander concludes that it is no coincidence that the criminal justice system ramped up its processing of African Americans just as the Jim Crow laws enforced since the age of slavery ended. The stigma of criminality functions in much the same way as Jim Crow - creating legal boundaries between them and us, allowing legal discrimination against them, removing the right to vote from millions, and essentially warehousing a disposable population of unwanted people.
She calls it a new caste system. Poor whites and people of other ethnicity are also subjected to this system of social control. Because if poor whites or others get out of line, they will be given the worst possible treatment, they will be treated just like poor blacks. Other critics like Professor Dylan Rodriguez see the criminal justice system as a key part of what he calls the domestic war on the marginalized. Because of globalization, he argues in his book Forced Passages, there is an excess of people in the US and elsewhere.
They must be controlled and dominated for the safety of the productive. They must be intimidated into accepting their inferiority or they must be removed from the society of the productive. This domestic war relies on the same technology that the US uses internationally. More and more we see the militarization of this country's police. Likewise, the goals of the US justice system are the same as the US war on terror - domination and control by capture, immobilization, punishment and liquidation.
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Martin Luther King Jr. A radical approach to the US criminal justice system means we must go to the root of the problem. Not reform. Not better beds in better prisons. We are not called to only trim the leaves or prune the branches, but rip up this unjust system by its roots. We are all entitled to safety. That is a human right everyone has a right to expect.
But do we really think that continuing with a deeply racist system leading the world in incarcerating our children is making us safer? It is time for every person interested in justice and safety to join in and dismantle this racist system. Should the US decriminalize drugs like marijuana? Should prisons be abolished? Should we expand the use of restorative justice? Can we create fair educational, medical and employment systems? All these questions and many more have to be seriously explored.
As Professor Alexander says "Nothing short of a major social movement can dismantle this new caste system. Do you have information you want to share with HuffPost? Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you. Help us tell more of the stories that matter from voices that too often remain unheard. Join HuffPost Plus. Real Life. Real News.
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