I care about drug policy. I care about the way society deals with drugs, the laws surrounding drug use and distribution and the prison sentences handed down to drug dealers and drug users. From the sound of it, I care a whole lot about drug policy. But that’s rarely the response I get from most people when I bring up drug policy in conversation. The usual response is, “Look at this guy, he just wants to make weed legal so he can get high whenever he wants. Just another knee-jerk collegiate pothead.” Laugh it up all you want, naysayers, but you couldn’t be farther from the truth.
For those of you who don’t know, Ann Arbor decriminalized marijuana in 1972. This means that anyone caught with pot today “shall be fined $25.00 for the first offense, $50.00 for the second offense, $100.00 for the third or subsequent offense and no incarceration, probation, nor any other punitive or rehabilitative measure shall be imposed,” according to the Charter for the city of Ann Arbor. This ordinance means that any “knee-jerk collegiate pothead” has little to worry about when it comes to recreational marijuana use. So tell me, naysayers, why then do I care so much about drug policy?
America’s drug policies have broad societal implications. Our War on Drugs is a war on Americans, and this war is being waged disproportionately against African Americans. According to a Human Rights Watch study cited on drugwarfacts.com, African Americans comprise one-third of all drug arrests. However, they account for 46 percent of felony drug convictions in state courts. While 63 percent of white Americans receive incarceration sentences for drug convictions, 71 percent of blacks who are convicted for the same crimes serve time.
These numbers represent the incredibly unbalanced proportion of black fathers who are taken from their families and sent to prison while white fathers are free to continue providing for their wives and children. These numbers mean that black youths involved with drugs are much more likely to be sent to prison than their white peers who can continue going to school. While those young white adults hang out with their friends and classmates, their black peers get to spend quality time with violent offenders and cellmates.
Americans lament the bloody violence occurring in many parts of Mexico and fear that the fighting could cross over into America. God forbid Mexico’s problems become our problems. How have we become blind to the fact that drug cartels are fighting for domination not over their own people, but over the trade of drugs coming into America on a daily basis? And while we’re being blissfully ignorant, let’s also ignore the fact that according to a Dec. 14 article on msnbc.com, “U.S. firearms agents estimate that around 80 percent of the weapons used by Mexican drug traffickers come from the United States.” Mexicans are killing each other at an alarming rate with American weapons so that they can sell drugs to American customers. Sure, we can beef up border security and work with Mexican police to mitigate cross-border violence. Or we could end a war on drugs that is responsible for what amounts to a civil war currently raging in our neighbor nation to the south.
When I respond to naysayers with facts like these, they begin to understand that I don’t simply care about drug policy because I’m looking for a safer way to get high. When I explain how our drug policies contribute to many of our social, political and economic problems both domestically and internationally, it’s pretty difficult for those naysayers to continue with their condescending criticisms.
As students, it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves about the problems facing this country so that we can go on to solve them. Whether you care about drug policy like me or you have a different area of interest, engaging in one educated conversation at a time can make a world of difference. Understand the problems facing America, not just those facing yourself, and you’ll be able to show any patronizing critic that you’re not just a “knee-jerk collegiate pothead” or a “naïve pseudo-activist supporting an issue-du-jour.” Instead, they’ll thank you for being an informed advocate with the potential to improve America.
Jake Fromm is a LSA sophomore and Daily photographer.