ngaioBy Ngaio Bealum

Why not? Cannabis makes bones heal faster, fights cancer, is effective for MS and can even helps people quit hard drugs. So why can’t marijuana also fix one of the biggest problems in America?

After all, racism is a primary reason why cannabis was made illegal in the first place. Back in the 1930s, prohibitionist Harry Anslinger stirred up racial frenzy by claiming that marijuana made white women want to sleep with Mexicans, Negroes and jazz musicians. Thirty or so years later, Richard Nixon started the “War on Drugs,” ramping up federal enforcement as part of his vendetta against antiwar protesters and civil rights groups. In the 1980s, Ronald and Nancy Reagan promoted the “Just Say No” campaign, making petty drug enforcement worse for everyone

Thanks to these policies, originating almost eight decades ago, black and brown people are being arrested for cannabis possession almost four times as often as white people. It seems as if police will use pot as an excuse to harass and intimidate citizens for even suspicion of the smallest amounts.

This past June, Charnesia Corley, 21, a black woman, was subjected to an incredibly invasive search in Harris County, Texas when a male police officer claimed he smelled marijuana in her vehicle after pulling her over for an alleged minor traffic infraction. When two female officers arrived, Corley was wrestled to the ground and the deputies searched her genital area.

Corley was subsequently arrested for possession of .02 grams of marijuana. That’s not even enough for a pinner joint. All this trouble and time, and three police officers, because of less than a half-gram of weed, which in Texas is worth maybe $5. So a young woman spent a night in jail and may now have a criminal record (Corley was also charged with resisting arrest because she objected to having to undergo a body cavity search on the side of the road) because she allegedly had $5 worth of marijuana on her person. Is this really why we give police our hard-earned tax money? Shit like this has got to stop.

Things are getting better, though. As legalization and decriminalization of cannabis spread from state to state and city to city, possession arrests are down across the board. This is great news. No one should ever have to go to jail for marijuana. Fewer pot arrests also means more time for the police to go after violent criminals, and less time and money being spent on low-level marijuana enforcement and prosecution.

But here’s the twist: While fewer busts overall (like in Massachusetts, where cannabis arrest rates fell from more than 8,000 in 2008 to just over 1,000 in 2010 post-decrim) mean fewer minorities arrested, blacks are still popped for weed more often than whites.

So I think the answer to the question posed in this article’s headline is: While marijuana may not cure racism, legal weed can definitely mitigate the effects.

ngaio-bealumNgaio Bealum is a marijuana-centric comedian who appears at such events as Seattle Hempfest and ICBC in San Francisco.

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