Pubdate: Wed, 21 Jul 2010
Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)
Copyright: 2010 The Charlotte Observer
Author: Leonard Pitts


Ron Allen probably thinks Alice Huffman has been smoking

Huffman, president of the California Conference of the NAACP, recently
declared support for an initiative that, if passed by voters in
November, will decriminalize the use and possession of marijuana.
Huffman sees it as a civil rights issue.

In response, Bishop Allen, founder of a religious social activism
group called the International Faith-Based Coalition, has come out
swinging. "Why would the state NAACP advocate for blacks to stay
high?" he demanded last week at a news conference in Sacramento. "It's
going to cause crime to go up. There will be more drug babies." Allen
wants Huffman to resign.

But Huffman is standing firm, both in resisting calls for her head and
in framing this as an issue of racial justice. There is, she notes, a
pronounced racial disparity in the enforcement of marijuana laws.
She's right, of course. For that matter, there is a disparity in the
enforcement of drug laws, period.

In 2007, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, 9.5
percent of blacks (about 3.6 million people) and 8.2 percent of whites
(about 16 million) older than 12 reported using some form of illicit
drug in the previous month. Yet though there are more than "four
times" as many white drug users as black ones, blacks represent better
than half those in state prison on drug charges, according to The
Sentencing Project.

The same source says that though two-thirds of regular crack users are
white or Latino, 82 percent of those sentenced in federal court for
crack crimes are black. In some states, black men are jailed on drug
charges at a rate 50 times higher than whites.

And so on.

So while the bishop hyperventilates about blacks "staying" high (?),
he ignores a clearer and more present danger. As Michelle Alexander
argues in her book, "The New Jim Crow," those absurd sentencing rates,
combined with laws making it legal to discriminate against even
nonviolent former felons in hiring, housing and education, constitute
nothing less than a new racial caste system.

Allen worries about a baby being born addicted to pot, but the
likelier scenario is that she will be born to a father unable to
secure a job so he can support her, an apartment for her to live in or
an education so he can better himself for her - all because he got
caught with a joint 10 years ago.

It is a cruel and ludicrous predicament. And apparently Huffman, like
a growing number of cops, judges, DEA agents, pundits and even
conservative icons like the late William F. Buckley Jr. and Milton
Friedman, has decided to call the War on Drugs what it is: a failure.
It is time to find a better way, preferably one that emphasizes
treatment over incarceration.

You'd think that would be a no-brainer. We have spent untold billions
of dollars, ruined untold millions of lives and racked up the highest
incarceration rate in the world to fight drug use. Yet, we saw casual
drug use "rise" by 2,300 percent between 1970 and 2003, according to
an advocacy group called LEAP (Law Enforcement Against

And as drug use skyrocketed, we find that we have moved the needle on
"addiction" not even an inch, up or down. All we have managed, and at
a ruinous cost, is to re-learn the lesson of 1933 when alcohol
Prohibition collapsed: you cannot jail or punish people out of wanting
what they want.

I've never used drugs. I share Bishop Allen's antipathy toward them.
But it seems silly and self-defeating to allow that reflexive
antipathy to bind us to the same strategy that has failed for 30
years. By now, one thing should be obvious about our War on Drugs.

Drugs won.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake