New Orleans When it comes to drugs of any kind, I’m cautious, conservative, and, frankly, boring. I worry about taking aspirin or ibuprofen, because I want to “save” them for when I really need them. When it comes to something like marijuana, I took my tokes when a joint was passed around in my first year of college, and I inhaled it, but I can honestly say I have never bought it, stashed it, or thought I was missing something. It was a political decision that I made firmly personal. I have never hesitated to take an arrest for my work, but I wasn’t going to give our opponents an easy layup to attack us over some petty drug charge. It was as simple as that. It was banned around our offices and work as organizational policy #4 for a long time, entitled something like, “There’s a reason they call it dope.” I wasn’t a prude about it, nor did I particularly care what people did on their personal time. We didn’t discriminate — we also kept alcohol out of the offices and meetings as well. It all just went with the territory.
But, saying all of that, I’m totally down for legalization, especially because of the way this has been weaponized by the police against racial minorities and the young. That was the subject of my conversation with Tahira Rehmatullah on Wade’s World about her argument in Waiting to Inhale: Cannabis Legalization and the Fight for Social Justice.
Tahira came to this campaign when she was drafted by her mother as a younger woman to find out about medical marijuana to give her grandmother some comfort in her illness. One thing led to another, and she has been in the business and an advocate for change with groups like the Last Prisoner Project. Make no mistake, a huge part of the ongoing campaign involves freeing the 40,000 people who remain in prison for nonviolent, simple drug arrests, with 60% of that group being minorities. There was action for some in federal facilities, but many in state lockups remain imprisoned.
Another critical part of this campaign is expungement of criminal records for those who were busted in the past in places where cannabis is now legal. It is well established that any record is a bar to jobseekers. Embedded with other charges, this can impact everything in someone’s life and future.
Tahira has experience on the commercial side of this problem as well. The book documents closely how devastating the nation’s drug policy has been to minority communities, but despite the claims of some of the states to offer minority businesses the opportunity to now serve these communities, it’s not happening. In some cases, large financial interests are using people to front their applications in order to scam the system.
It’s hard not to agree that we desperately new a new drug policy from top to bottom. Consensus is hard, but taking steps to stop the racial injustice can’t wait any longer.