Maia Szalavitz has a terrific piece pointing out that the racist enforcement of marijuana laws is no accident:
Both Brooks and Marcus told stories of their own youthful pot smoking—neither of which seems to have led to any lasting negative consequences as is the case for the overwhelming majority of marijuana users. Yet both claimed—without apparently understanding that relying on a single study that has been questioned in a follow up by the same journal is not accurately reporting “fact”—that marijuana definitively lowers IQ.
And neither mentioned the elephant in the room: the fact that marijuana laws are mainly enforced against black people and that arresting millions and saddling them with criminal records hasn’t prevented around half of the adult population (white and black) from trying weed. It has, however, meant that black people have reduced opportunities to get jobs with organizations like the Times or the Post while Brooks and Marcus never faced arrest.
The truth is that our perceptions of marijuana—and in fact all of our drug laws—are based on early 20th century racism and “science” circa the Jim Crow era. In the early decades of the 20th century, the drug was linked to Mexican immigrants and black jazzmen, who were seen as potentially dangerous.
Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (an early predecessor of the DEA), was one of the driving forces behind pot prohibition. He pushed it for explicitly racist reasons, saying, “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men,” and:
“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. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”
The main reason to prohibit marijuana, he said was “its effect on the degenerate races.” (And god forbid women should sleep with entertainers!)
In fairness, I’m sure Brooks will write a column where he shows evidence of the thinking he’s done on these issues in secret any day now.