The House of Representative threw a pot party in Washington last week under the guise of a hearing on the racial impact of marijuana laws. Shamefully, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler refused to allow groups opposed to the mass commercialization of marijuana to participate.
Equally disturbing was the behavior of ranking Republican Doug Collins, who refused to invite witnesses who could offer a counterpoint to Big Marijuana and its Big Tobacco investors.
Had these lawmakers not bought the industry’s propaganda and allowed the committee to hear opposing viewpoints, they would have heard the truth about how an addiction-for-profit industry has been targeting and victimizing minority communities across the country, not providing social justice.
The reality is that marijuana legalization is going too far, too fast. We need to press pause.
In one moment of reality, Dr. Malik Burnett, who previously worked on staff for the pro-pot lobbying group Drug Policy Alliance and now profits from the pot industry, acknowledged that the people making money off of the commercial pot industry are wealthy men — not minorities. He also highlighted that the industry’s federal legalization bill, the STATES Act, being pushed by former Speaker of the House John Boehner, includes no provisions for social justice or equity.
Let’s get real: Legalizing pot isn’t about social justice. It’s about making money. Period. And it’s about profit, usually off the backs of low-income and minority communities and other vulnerable populations, like young people. The idea that opportunity, equality and justice will spring from bongs, joints and drug-laced gummy bears is simply nonsensical. If common sense doesn’t make that case, the facts do.
Grand promises of social justice have repeatedly failed to materialize in states that have legalized.
African-American arrest rates for marijuana-related crimes in Colorado are nearly twice that of whites. And despite claims that pot legalization can cure mass incarceration, most states that have legalized marijuana have seen no corresponding drop in prison population.
Like its predecessor, Big Tobacco, the pot industry sees low-income and minority communities as profit centers. In Los Angeles, the majority of pot shops have opened in predominantly African-American communities. In Denver, where there are now more pot shops than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined, shops are located disproportionately in lower income and minority neighborhoods.
Even more concerning is the connection between pot shops and crime. Studies have shown that the density of marijuana retailers is directly linked to increased rates of property crimes. In Denver, neighborhoods adjacent to pot businesses saw roughly 85 more property crimes each year than neighborhoods without a pot shop nearby.
Big Pot doesn’t want the public and lawmakers to know these facts. Apparently, neither do congressmen Nadler and Collins. The industry has spent millions of dollars employing well-heeled lobbyists and PR teams to convince lawmakers and the general public that marijuana use is safe, and legalization has no appreciable negative consequences. It’s a lie.
Today’s high-potency pot products, up to 99 percent THC, is being mass produced and mass marketed in kid-friendly forms such as gummies, candies, sodas and ice creams. The use of these products has recently been linked in a growing body of medical research to the onset of severe psychosis.
These consequences are real. States with “legal” pot are now seeing dramatic increases in mental health issues, emergency room visits due to children accidently ingesting pot products (pets too), and spikes in drugged driving fatalities.
Marijuana legalization and normalization has the money-hungry titans of addiction salivating. Altria, Big Tobacco giant and maker of Marlboro cigarettes, has already dumped billions into a Canadian pot grower. Alcohol conglomerates are doing the same. Even the former head of OxyContin producer Purdue Pharma went on to lead a commercial marijuana business. If you think these guys care one bit about racial or social equity, think again.
Marijuana policy can be reformed without creating another legal addiction-for-profit industry. Expunging prior records and decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot is a start. Effective drug policy discourages use and gets people the help needed for issues with substance abuse. That’s true social justice.
Getting real social justice requires a real debate about this issue, not a sham, one-sided congressional hearing stacked in Big Marijuana’s favor.