Mandate social equity standards be linked to legalization of cannabis across the ecosystem

Mandate social equity standards be linked to legalization of cannabis across the ecosystem

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The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.” – John Ehrlichman, Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs under President Richard Nixon[i]

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 paid $20,000 in compensation to each of the more than 100,000 remaining Japanese Americans incarcerated in internment camps during World War II.[ii] At the same time, President Reagan—responsible for reparations to Japanese Americans—fueled the drug war on African Americans. In 2015, John Ehrlichman, a key advisor to the Nixon administration, confirmed what many had already concluded: the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 was politically and racially motivated. Tougher sentencing laws such as mandatory minimums and the three strikes rule would lead to the arrest and imprisonment of more than four million African Americans from 2001 to 2015—more than 100 times the number of Japanese Americans imprisoned during internment.

Of those four million previously incarcerated African Americans, nearly 75 percent of them are among the lowest-income earners in America.[iii] The staggering level of poverty can be attributed to a long history of state-sanctioned systemic racial terrorism, from slavery to Jim Crow to the war on drugs. An estimated one in three African American males will be incarcerated in their lifetimes, and if current arrest trends hold, more than 80 percent of them will serve time for nonviolent drug offenses. Research by Steven Raphael from the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley[iv] shows that these historically and extraordinarily high incarceration rates have interrupted potential careers in legitimate labor markets for all African Americans, both imprisoned and non-imprisoned. Partially as a result of those lost labor-market opportunities, the median wealth of African Americans declined from $6,800 in 1999 to $1,233 in 2013, while the median wealth of White Americans increased from $102,000 to $122,336.[v] According to the Institute for Policy Studies, African Americans as a group are headed to zero wealth by 2053 if current trends hold.

The consequence is clear: incarceration robs families, neighborhoods, and entire communities of their most valuable resource—their people. The war on drugs succeeded in interrupting the dreams of African Americans, enslaving our journey to financial self-sufficiency. Meanwhile, White Americans have gained from mistreatment and criminalization of Black people. 

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