Some form of marijuana legalization or at the least, decriminalization, has gained consensus support across parties, regions, and classes in America. Since 2000, the support for legalization has doubled, now embraced by 60% of the country, including 42% of Republicans. However, the reasons for this vary, and a proposal that would inflict punitive funding restrictions at the federal level for states that don’t legalize it is being pushed for all the wrong reasons.
New Jersey junior Senator Corey Booker fancies himself a younger version of Barack Obama, and fashions himself accordingly. It is a natural role model, as Booker is a young, light-skinned, black Democrat hoping to make a major leap from his relatively minor role within the political ranks. Video evidence shows that he has even adopted Obama’s mannerisms and hand gestures, utilizing them far more frequently than the former President ever did. Booker also has made a habit of adopting policies and political strategies frequently employed by Obama.
Booker, who proposed the federal weed bill in question, has done so under the guise of freeing black men and women put in prison for petty, marijuana-related offenses. Booker has even thrown around the term “restorative justice” as the bill’s primary goal, a term clearly aimed at the widespread belief that the black community is still being oppressed from the days of slavery through unjust drug laws. If marijuana legalization was truly a solution to incarceration-related causes and symptoms, more people could get behind this bill. Like most Democrat-proposed solutions to complex problems, however, it’s just not that simple.
Booker’s proposed bill calls for legalization of marijuana at the federal level, in effect taking away the states’ rights to choose whether such a decision fits their residents’ values and needs. This is nothing new for the Democrats, who have long pined for all of their policies to be inflicted on the general public, especially red states. From Obamacare to the EPA, examples of this abound. Booker’s bill would punish states that don’t legalize weed by withholding unrelated federal funding. He justifies this by equating states that choose not to legalize marijuana to ones which “disproportionately incarcerate low-income individuals and people of color for marijuana-related offenses.” In effect, he is calling states that vote against marijuana legalization racists. Again, it’s just not that simple.
The bill represents why Booker is not to be taken seriously as an up-and-coming politician. His primary tool is fostering division along racial lines, which Obama came to be known for by many. Obama at least had some other policies and ideas that could distract from his tendencies toward further polarizing the issue of race in America. For Booker, his language is doused in thinly-veiled allusions toward white racism. Even marijuana, when framed through Booker’s lenses, is not free from hyperbolic rhetoric which suggests marijuana policy unfairly targets African-Americans:
“Our country’s drug laws are badly broken and need to be fixed,” Booker said in a statement. “They don’t make our communities any safer – instead they divert critical resources from fighting violent crimes, tear families apart, unfairly impact low-income communities and communities of color, and waste billions in taxpayer dollars each year.
Drug laws are broken. Marijuana being classified as a more dangerous drug than meth, for example, is a problem that has inexplicably not been fixed. But Booker’s generalization that laws which imprison drug dealers “don’t make our community any safer” is precisely why his bill, by any serious account, is already dead in the water, particularly with the Republican-controlled Congress and a staunchly anti-drug Attorney General in place. More importantly, it is just a bad bill based on false premises.
In the case of Booker’s proposal, the problem is twofold. For one, legalization in states such as Colorado and Washington are considered far from successes, with many of the promises made about legalization’s benefits proving to be empty. Creating a federal mandate that revokes states’ funding should they not adhere to a much-debated, far from perfected legalization process, is lunacy. Second, Booker’s assertion that marijuana would alleviate disproportionate incarceration rates among America’s black citizens is proven false by statistics.
Recently, black conservative Jason Reilly pointed out some of the major flaws in Booker’s statistical assertions in a Wall Street Journal column. Reilly counters Booker’s notion that adjusting or eliminating marijuana-related drug laws would significantly affect the number of incarcerated black people in America:
‘Mr. Booker believes drug legalization would address these racial disparities, but don’t bet on it. Violent offenses, not drug offenses, drive incarceration rates, and blacks commit violent crimes at seven to 10 times the rate whites do. Data from 2015, the most recent available, show that about 53% of people in state prisons (which house nearly 90% of the nation’s inmates) were imprisoned for violent crimes, 19% for property crimes and just 16% for drug crimes. Given that blacks are also overrepresented among those arrested for property and other nonviolent offenses, merely altering U.S. drug laws would effect little change in the racial makeup of people behind bars.’
One Washington, D.C. public defender corroborates Reilly’s claims that legalizing marijuana wouldn’t make any real difference in black communities or the penal system:
‘“As a percentage of our nation’s incarcerated population, those possessing small amounts of marijuana barely register,” writes James Forman, a former District of Columbia public defender, in his new book, “Locking Up Our Own.” He continues: “For every ten thousand people behind bars in America, only six are there because of marijuana possession.”’
I’ll repeat that: for every ten-thousand people locked up in America, six are there for marijuana possession.
Statistics from states where marijuana has already been made legal, such as Washington and Colorado, provide direct evidence that the legalization as a cure for racial disparities in incarceration is a false one:
And Jeff Hunt of Colorado Christian University reports that the illegal market for weed in the Rocky Mountain State is still thriving and seems to have exacerbated racial inequities. “According to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, arrests in Colorado of black and Latino youth for [underage] marijuana possession have increased 58% and 29% respectively after legalization,” Mr. Hunt wrote in USA Today recently. “This means that Black and Latino youth are being arrested more for marijuana possession after it became legal.”
These stats are enough to make you wonder if Booker has done any research at all into an issue he seems to be zealous about. Zealous to the point of withholding federal funding from states who aren’t on his side. Perhaps he has done his research, yet continues to plow ahead with his narrative despite credible, contradictory evidence. He is a modern progressive, after all.
But, despite his passion and apparent wishful thinking regarding marijuana and the incarceration problem in the black community, he can’t escape the simple fact that his premise is wrong. Fortunately, Congress is unlikely to overlook such a barrier to the bill’s passage.