L.A. Times: Pot Illegality Mere "Symptom" of Racial Disparities in Enforcing, um, Pot Laws

When last we checked in with my former colleagues on the L.A. Times editorial board, they were arguing that the obscene lock-'em-up threats from County Sheriff Lee Baca and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder even if Prop. 19 passes were a good reason to vote no on the initiative, because, you know, "legal morass" and all that. Besides, "there's no need for a battle with Washington that the state is unlikely to win" (now there's an inspiring civil rights battle cry!).

Today my old pals attempt to process an uncomfortable if 100% predictable side effect of the prohibition they continue to support: Blacks in California get arrested for marijuana at several times the rate as whites, even though they smoke the stuff less. "This page opposes Proposition 19," they write, "but regardless of whether the measure succeeds or fails, the racial inequity is real and should not continue unaddressed."

How should California address this "racial inequity"? On this the editorial is strangely silent. Instead, we are left with this kicker:

Supporters of Proposition 19 say the solution is to legalize marijuana for all. But that's addressing a symptom, not the problem. The real culprit is not marijuana laws but policing practices that vary wildly from community to community. That's why Proposition 19 is not the answer.

So there you have it: The illegality of marijuana is just a "symptom" of the gross racial disparities in enforcing marijuana laws. Thanks, Dr. Spring Street!

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  • gramercy||

    Love the use of the Steely Dan cover.

  • alan||

    Too easy. If Matt was any kind of hipster he would have figured out a way to incorporate Katy Lied into the mix. To which I hope he answers back like a character from America's funniest comedy, "challenge accepted!"*

  • Lester Hunt||

    And this editorial is a symptom of the lazy mental habit of thinking in cliches: eventually, you forget what a phrase like "attack a symptom and not the cause" actually means. And you talk gibberish without realizing it.

  • ||

    We're reaching out, but at the end of the day there will be pushback.

  • Rich||

    ♣ for Congress! S/He's on our side and fighting for you!

  • ||

    A chicken in every pot! More pot for America's chicks!

  • bong girl||

    this is a slogan I can wrap my lips around

  • ♥♥♥||

    This is a mental image I can fap to.

  • alan||

    Without easy access to liquor, pot and coke as a teen would my personality been able to carry the day with the ladies? Thank God I never had to find out.

  • ||

    The real culprit is not marijuana laws but policing practices that vary wildly from community to community.

    That's some fine Logic there Plato.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I was thinking Socrates - but probably only because I'd like to see him drink hemlock.

  • Patrick||

    The obvious solution, from the Times perspective, is for the police to arrest more white kids.

    I'm sure the Times editors won't change their stance when the pretextual traffic stops, shakedowns, and no-knock raids begin in Brentwood.

  • ||

    Watching liberals try to justify the war on users of unapproved substances is simultaneously one of the most hilarious and disgusting things it is possible to witness.

  • Virginia||

    One progressive-individual* commenter on Matt/Nick's HuffPo piece said they'd rather make alcohol illegal again than to legalize mj due to broken families, car deaths, blah blah etc etc.

    *an even starker example of diametric opposition than anarcho-communism

  • West Coaster||

    Well, at least they're being consistent...

  • Mango Punch||

    It makes sense that unequal enforcing of laws doesn't just pertain to weed laws. If that's what they are saying, than their argument makes perfect sense. "Racist" police are the unerlying issue - not the laws that are on the books.

  • ||

    I won't rehash the Reason arguments for why you're an idiot. Suffice it to say, there can be equal enforcing of laws that results in completely unequal results.

  • Mango Punch||

    "Lost In Translation" is an great tag for how you intrpereted my post. Maybe you should stop reading between the lines.

    I completely agree that laws (even when equally enforced) can have un-equal results (i.e. crack vs powder cocaine). Whites smoke weed more than blacks, but get arrested for it less. Clearly this is an example of either unequal enforcement or policing. If we accept that there exists inequality in the way laws are enforced, than the argument that higher arrests for black weed users is symptomatic of this makes sense.

    Stop being such a nitwit, unequal outcomes due to actual laws and unequal outcomes due to policing are not mutually exclusive.

  • ||

    Whites smoke weed more than blacks, but get arrested for it less. Clearly this is an example of either unequal enforcement or policing.

    I challenge this entire notion. It could be that whites are less likely to carry in public, or when committing other crimes. It could be that black potheads are more likely to do stupid things that get them caught. It could be an artifact of blacks committing more crimes than whites. It could be that white potheads are older on average and more discreet.

    "Racial disparities" can happen for all sorts of reasons, and I hate the misuse of statistics to "prove" discrimination.

  • ||

    It could be, the statistics would have to account for "possession only" for the charges

  • Robert||

    If Mango's an idiot then so am I. Just from reading Mr. Welch's excerpt I gathered that the editorial was saying it was unequal enforcement of all laws that was the problem, and that Welch was misconstruing it.

  • Fluffy||

    I see your point, but the fact is that without laws on the books that allow police to harass and arrest people for possessing contraband, the police racism in question wouldn't matter.

    That's why the editorialist has it exactly backwards: If you write the correct set of laws, it doesn't matter if individual police are racist. Racist police would have a tough time arresting the same numbers of black and hispanic kids for burglary.

    To allow for police racism and institutional racism [yes, in this case it does exist, in the sense that major institutions are set up in precisely the way needed to create the unequal enforcement the studies show] to have full play, you need a law directed at a relatively harmless behavior that is ubiquitous and widespread, but that allows police to stop people on the street and harass them, and to make arrests based on what they find in someone's pockets. How does the system replace that if the marijuana laws go? Are they suddenly going to find millions of black and hispanic kids with car stereos in their pockets? Not likely.

  • Mango Punch||

    Well put Fluffy. Seatbelt laws come to mind.

  • ||

    The logic of the editorial is only backwards if your goal is to have LE not harass and oppress people. If your goal is for it to harass and oppress everyone equally, the editorial makes perfect sense. I get the feeling that if LE harassed and arrested white people at the same appalling rates that they do minorities, this guy wouldn't see a problem.

  • skr||

    if they harrassed white equally there wouldn't be a problem b/c it would be legal in a year.

  • Robert||

    Or if the editorial did not reflect a belief that pot prohib'n is oppression. I just don't see the contradiction or illogic in such an editorial. They're just rebutting the argument against pot prohib'n on the basis of unequal enforcement by saying the law is good and its unequal enforcement is just a sampling of unequal law enforcement in gen'l. I think the editorial is wrong, but not absurd.

  • cynical||

    While it doesn't necessarily require personal racism, it's certainly possible that the systemic sources of (unfairly) racially unequal outcomes that affect weed laws affect other crimes as well. Of course, treating one symptom of a disease doesn't prevent you from looking for a cure, but it might affect your motivation. And the solution might be to apply liberalize other vice crimes, and use the freed up resources to step up enforcement of violent/property crimes in whiter areas (if necessary). But I don't think it was fair to dismiss the argument the way Matt did.

  • Pink Cosmotarian||

    "Raaaaacist!!"

  • Fluffy||

    There's no way around the data, dude.

    And I say this as someone who thinks that shopowners should be allowed to put their "Whites Only" signs back up as a matter of principle.

  • MNG||

    Even if it is just a sympton why wouldn't it be important to lessen the negative effects of such a sympton? If your nose is so congested you can't sleep or function well a nasal decongestant can mitigate that though it doesn't cure the cold that causes it. It's stupid to not take it because "hey you're only treating the symptons!" No shit. The sympton is what is bothering me!

  • ||

    How do you lessen the negative effects? Prop 19 comes to mind for me, but maybe there are other solutions.

  • Zeb||

    This is a good point. Treating the symptoms is often exactly what is appropriate when dealing with a disease. To take a recently in the news example, cholera kills people through dehydration. Treat that one symptom and almost very few people die of cholera.

  • Robert||

    To continue the analogy, the editor would probably say it's like cutting off your nose to lessen nasal congestion. It would work, but only by eliminating a good thing entirely.

  • Fluffy||

    Actually, I'm a little surprised no one at Reason has drawn the connection between the unequal patterns of marijuana enforcement and the "security theater" aspect of the war on terror.

    In order to make the moron element in America feel safe, politicians need visible manifestations of the power of law enforcement and the state.

    It just plain old makes soccer moms feel safer if they know that the police are taking minority males off the streets. The contraband laws are just the necessary pretext. They're not enforced against white or Asian kids because soccer moms aren't afraid of white and Asian kids. On the rare occasions when a white or Asian kid is arrested, soccer moms think, "Aw, he's a good kid. He really needs a chance to turn his life around" or something along those lines. If it's an inner city minority kid, they think, "Thank god they got that kid for marijuana, that makes it less likely that dangerous scary kid will invade my house Deathwish style!"

    It's continental-scale performance art undertaken to cater to the neurotic fears of assholes. Just like the puppet show we have now at airports. It doesn't matter if the policy creates benefit or harm, as long as it exists to provide comfort to the frightened.

  • ||

    The security theater laws are the opposite of what you portray them. They don't pick on minorities. Just the opposite. They oppress everyone equally. If the security theater stuff were run like marijuana laws, they would actually target Muslims and people thought likely to commit acts of terrorism. But that is not what they do. Instead, they target everyone equally or randomly with no emphasis or thought put into who might or might not be a threat.

  • Fluffy||

    Yes, that's fair.

    I was focused more on the intent behind the actions.

    We here tend to look at the security regime at airports, and say, "Well, if you tally up the costs to implement this system, and the aggravation it creates for citizens, and measure that against the benefit we get from it, there's a huge disconnect there." But that just doesn't matter to anyone but us, because the actual benefit or harm is secondary to the political need to do something noticeable to make people feel safer.

    And that's why when we talk about individual freedom, or institutional racism in enforcement, or the huge disparity between the costs of enforcement and the harm being prevented, we're kind of missing the point. None of those things matter if the real motive force for the law is the need to have a pretext to shanghai minority males off the streets so that frightened suburbanites can feel safer.

    You're right, though, that to make people feel really, really safe, the airport security regime should be tying Muslims up and suspending them from flag poles in airport parking lots. We're just not quite there yet. The drug laws started with baby steps too.

  • ||

    We are too PC to ever actually target Muslims in security checks. One of the great societal myths is the idea that random white people are more likely to commit terrorism than a committed Muslim. They are not giving up that idea anytime soon.

    I don't think the people who support this thing are quite as malevolent as you do. It is not that they are thinking up some great plot to ship off minorities. It is that they are paternal white supremacists. They don't think minorities, unlike their little darlings, can handle using drugs. So, they view it as their social responsibility to "stop the scourge of drugs in minority communities". The scourge of drugs in their communities, since they are populated by well off white kids, isn't as big of a deal and can be dealt with by a slap on the wrist and a trip to rehab. But minorities, since they are inferior, must be dealt with more harshly for theirs' and their community's own good.

  • waffles||

    Actually, that sounds worse than what Fluffy suggested. Less malevolent, perhaps, but it suggests that these notions are so ingrained in these types that removal or reform may be impossible.

    Lord, I hope prop 19 passes, for me it's the only real hope alive this election year.

  • ||

    Good points, but I think the real explanation is that the police concentrate their resources in "crime ridden" areas. These areas happen to be the same areas where minorities live and play. It is to be expected that more minorities will be arrested for drug law violations in this scenario. Minorities are also much more likely to be arrested for murder and armed robbery as well.

  • waffles||

    because to do otherwise would be racist, yeah? It's just two different flavor coatings over the same kind of irredeemable stupid.

  • ||

    Just caught an interesting segment on Fox and Friends (Blond in the Middle!™) during which the former Miss America interviewed the former police chief of San Jose regarding Prop 19. Typical drug-war propagandizing, right? No! The ex-cop offered a brief and compelling argument in favor of pot legalization. On FOX News!

  • ||

    Fox News at least allows Libertarians to have a shot even if they generally don't agree with them.

  • ||

    FOX has several libertarians on the payroll. As far as I know, it's the only major news network that does. The others make small concessions with reliably safe establishment conservatives like Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough.

  • ||

    If you look at Buchanan's views on the role of government and free trade, he is economically more of a crank populist liberal than anything else. He is certainly a lot closer to liberals than he is Libertarians. I am not sure what Scarborough is other than a professional concern troll.

  • Fluffy||

    I am not sure what Scarborough is other than a professional concern troll.

    Intern killer?

  • ||

    Really?

  • Fluffy||

    There was some incident involving a dead intern in his office before he left the Congress.

    Apparently he goes berserk whenever anyone asks him about it.

    Which naturally means that would be the first thing out of my mouth if I ever met him.

  • ||

    Scarborough is a RINO. He's MSNBC's version of "fair and balanced" news and the perfect foil for vapid news-milf Mika Brzezinski.

  • Chuck||

    Give Mika some credit; at least she's willing to day-drink on the air.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqVrYa01zYw

  • ||

    That explains her penchant for staring off into space while the menfolk talk politics.

  • Guest123||

    Stossel on ABC.

  • ||

    There is one good thing that has come about because of Proposition 19 win or lose. It has ended the myth that establishment liberals and Democrats are any less committed to the drug war than establishment conservatives and Republicans. Other than George Soros, I cannot think of a single major liberal political or media figure who has come out in favor of Proposition 19 or done anything to help it. The performance by the California media on this has just been appalling.

  • ||

    Getting high is still stigmatic, but we're bombarded with beer ads all day Sunday, our holy football day. American culture is a puritanical hypocrisy of the first order.

  • Matt Welch||

    Democratic *funders* are on board w/ legalization/Prop. 19 -- not just Soros, but Peter Lewis, and I'm assuming (though I have not heard) John Sperling. (Even though, like the drug policy community in general, Lewis and Soros were very late to the Prop. 19 party, because they thought it was Too Soon.) But important professionalized political humans? Pretty much bupkus.

  • ||

    And what about major liberal media figures? I am not saying there aren't any. But they sure don't seem to be very prevalent.

  • ||

    The surprising thing to me isn't that soi-disant "liberal" politicians deeply invested in the status quo are defending the status quo by opposing Prop 19.

    Rather, I'm surprised that so many self-described liberal/progressive voters are falling into line on this. I guess I shouldn't be: such voters are necessarily comfortable with an ubiquitous authoritarian state, so why should this one manifestation of it be the exception? But still, I've been surprised.

  • jtuf||

    + 1

  • Robert||

    Of course we won't really know how much of that until the actual vote is taken.

    Meantime I think part of the problem is that too many "liberal" voters have friends who smoke pot and who they wish would smoke less because they find them less interesting company when they're high. They might figure that any measure that would allow their friends to smoke cheaper or for more of their friends to take it up will make their circle of friends less interesting.

  • jtuf||

    The Libertarians would do very well if they ran candidates in the inner cities that emphasized drug legalization and raising the number of immigration visas. Republicans have given up on those neighborhoods and Democrats take them for granted. The situation is perfect for a Libertarian option.

  • ||

    Two problems. First, the Democrats have people in those neighborhoods totally dependent on welfare and convinced they can only succeed with the government's help. That is going to be awfully hard to overcome. Second, minorities are really socially conservative. Libertarian support of gay rights and such will not sell well in those communities.

  • Fluffy||

    That's why I think the intermediary step needs to be the rationalization of all benefits programs into a single cash-payment program administered by the IRS.

    Nuking the bureaucracy from space and just handing the money out as cash instead would separate the liberal political and bureaucratic establishment from their hapless chattels pretty damn quick.

    Then you slowly squeeze down on the cash payments, or let inflation attrit them. OR we see if the poor actually end up prospering more and escaping poverty if we stop letting bureaucrats micromanage every aspect of their lives or gut them like fish whenever they show any initiative.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Negative income tax. I'd hit it.

  • jasno||

    I seem to remember seeing something on one of those History Channel drug shows that mentioned inner-city, minority hatred towards hippies who were bringing drugs and a lazy attitude into their neighborhoods.

  • Zeb||

    Whenever I see something that says "X happens to black people disproportionately", I question whether it really has to do with race rather than class (by class I mean mostly income). I mean, are middle class, suburban black people arrested for pot at higher rates than similarly situated white people? I would like to see numbers on this based on income rather than race.

  • ||

    Cannabis should never have been made illegal to begin with. It has been used as a medicinal plant and as a recreational substance since time immemorial. Cannabis is not physically addictive, as its use does not lead to the development of a physical withdrawal syndrome. The so-called "gateway drug" theory has been completely discredited as invalid, and declared "half-baked" by a recent large study. At the same time it is an accepted scientific fact that Cannabis use suppresses violent behavior, which I believe is very important from the public safety point of view. It is also being proven that Cannabis may serve as an "exit" substance for recovering alcoholics/hard drug/prescription drug abusers, which has a potential of alleviating the Nation's drug and alcohol problem. In addition to being very useful in treating many conditions, Cannabis may even have a preventative value for such devastating illnesses as cancer and Alzheimer's disease. YES to Prop. 19!

  • دردشة||

    thank u

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