Police arrested three quarters of a million Americans last year for cannabis law violations, which constituted more than half of all drug arrests in the U.S. In Missouri alone, law enforcement arrested over 20,000 people for cannabis offenses, and over 90 percent of those arrests were for simple possession. Despite using cannabis at approximately the same rate, blacks are 2.5 times as likely to be arrested for cannabis in Missouri than whites. In the city of Saint Louis, African-Americans are a staggering 18.4 times more likely than Caucasians to be arrested for cannabis.
This is not an accidental consequence of the war on drugs. Cannabis prohibition was justified by racism at its inception. The first head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry J. Anslinger, explicitly claimed his crusade against drugs was actually to go after minority users. He has been quoted as saying, “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana use.” On another occasion, he remarked, “[r]eefer makes darkies think they are as good as white men.”
The war on drugs, which is primarily a war on cannabis, has destroyed communities and ruined relationships between police and citizens.
As officers fighting the war on drugs saw themselves less as peace officers and more as soldiers fighting an enemy, they began to dress and act like it. The war on drugs is directly responsible for the recent culture of police militarization, including the disturbing response to recent protests in Ferguson. The paramilitary equipment used in response to the protests was made available to local police in response to the war on drugs.
Despite common misperception, being arrested for cannabis carries major consequences. In Missouri, there is nothing one can do to erase a conviction. A misdemeanor conviction (or a felony for possession of over 35 grams) will follow a person forever. Convictions can limit access to public housing, college loans, and public assistance. Perhaps more significantly, a single conviction can make it difficult to get a job forever.
Show-Me Cannabis advocates for an end to cannabis prohibition. We support a system of legalization, taxation, and regulation that would eliminate the black market, in addition to 20,000 cannabis arrests each year. If you are interested in updates from our campaign, you can sign up for email alerts here. If you want to join us as we end cannabis prohibition, we encourage you to sign up as a volunteer.