Colorado experiment and the war on drugs

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Many across the nation will be closely watching the first recreational marijuana industry in the U.S. which opened last week in Colorado.

Long lines greeted Colorado marijuana shoppers testing the nation’s first legal recreational pot shops Jan. 1. At least 24 pot shops in eight Colorado towns opened.

The experiment will be watched closely by many on both sides of the legalization issue.

Opponents understandably worry the industry will make the drug more widely available to teens, even though legal sales are limited to adults over 21.

While activists hope to prove that legalization is a better alternative than the costly American-led war on drugs.

Marijuana activists have long argued a legal market would generate revenue for states and save money by not having to lock up so many drug offenders.

Colorado approved the legal pot industry in 2012. The state of Washington has its own version, which is scheduled to open later this year.

Whether voters in other states go as far as Colorado and Washington remains to be seen but what is becoming increasingly apparent is that there is a long overdue evolution in how the nation’s lawmakers and policy makers are approaching drug laws.

Although marijuana is still illegal under federal law, the U.S. Justice Department has outlined an eight-point list of priorities for marijuana regulation, requiring states to keep the drug away from minors, criminal cartels, federal property and other states in order to avoid a federal crackdown.

Changes in marijuana legalization could have serious consequences for African Americans, according to reporting done by Philadelphia Tribune correspondent Linn Washington Jr.

In a front page article on “Racial disparity found in marijuana possession arrests,” in the Dec. 22 edition of the Tribune, Washington reports:

“If Philadelphia police killed or crippled more than 2,000 Blacks every year for the past decade, public outrage would explode; forcing elected officials to take action to address whatever problem was causing such carnage.

However there is one Philadelphia police practice that produced its own form of mass carnage on Blacks during the past decade; the arrest of Blacks for marijuana possession at rates far higher than Whites.

Since 2002, Philadelphia police have arrested nearly 42,000 Blacks for marijuana possession compared to a little less than 11,000 Whites, according to data in the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Report.”

The racial disparity in marijuana possession is of course, not unique to Philadelphia. The American Civil Liberties Union released a comprehensive report last year tracking marijuana possession arrests for Blacks and Whites on national, state and county levels. The report revealed that although Black and White people use marijuana at roughly the same rate, the vast majority of counties arrest Blacks at a higher rate than Whites, with some having a disparity of greater than 10 to 1.

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)

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