Drug policy is inherently a racial and social justice issue. From the inception of anti-drug laws, beginning with the prohibition against alcohol in the early 20th century, racism has been an important part of the argument for making substances illegal. Drug laws have always affected the rich and the poor in radically different ways. The laws have been disproportionately enforced against low-income individuals, while the rich have always found it easier to avoid arrest or harsh conviction. Even knowing that, this statistic from “The New York Times” still managed to shock me:

On the Upper East Side of Manhattan where the mayor lives, an average of 20 people for every 100,000 residents were arrested on the lowest-level misdemeanor pot charge in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

During those same years, the marijuana arrest rate in Brownsville, Brooklyn, was 3,109 for every 100,000 residents.

That means the chances of getting arrested on pot charges in Brownsville — and nothing else — were 150 times greater than on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.[emphasis added]

No doubt this is, in large part, a consequence of the stop-and-frisk practices of the Police Department, which Mr. Bloomberg and his aides say have been an important tool in bringing down crime.

Truly amazing. A person from a poor part of New York City is 150 times, that is 15,000 percent, more likely to be arrested for minor marijuana crime than a very rich person. There is no way poor people are breaking minor marijuana laws at a rate 150 times that of those who live on the Upper East Side. It’s as if we live in an America with one set of drug laws for the rich and one for the poor. Drug policy is a social justice issue, and this is why we need to support efforts, like Proposition 19 in California, to end our destructive prohibition against cannabis.