Cultural Baggage / October 24, 2010

Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”


My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the Unvarnished Truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.


Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. Today we have a special show for you. It’s taken from a press conference at the NAACP state convention in Oakland, California where they are releasing a new report, which highlights the marijuana arrest disparities in California and across this nation.

We’ll be hearing from the California President of the NAACP, Alice Huffman, the founder of Oaksterdam University and the funder of Proposition 19, Mister Richard Lee, actor Danny Glover and former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, as well as Neil Franklin the Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. But we begin with this from Alice Huffman.


Alice Huffman: Because I have experts here, I am not going to attempt to tell you a summary of this report. I am just going to tell you and then I’m going to invite you come into our civil rights forum right after this, so that you can really hear come in depth discussion about what’s really going on in America and why it’s important for us to take this opportunity to make our voices heard as African Americans of the United States of America. Having opened it up, I’m going to turn in over to Steven Helfand, who will highlight the study for us.

Steven Helfand: Again, I’m Steven Helfand. I’m the California state Director of Drug Policy Alliance. Today the Drug Policy Alliance and the California conference of the NAACP are releasing a report that documents enormous wide spread race-based disparities in the arrests of non-violent low-level marijuana possession offenders.

Now, the context for this report today, which is available to all press here and available on-line, the context is an extraordinary increase in number of arrests for low-level personal possession of marijuana in this state over the past twenty years. It’s extraordinary in that the arrest records of all other crimes in the state have plummeted in the same twenty-year period since 1990, arrests from everything from violent and serious crimes like rape and murder to crimes – all drug crimes – all other drug possession crimes.

Marijuana possession is the ultimate outlier there. Marijuana possession arrests have gone up enormous amounts. Marijuana possession arrests have tripled in the same twenty-year period since 1990, from around 20,000 arrests to more than 61,000 arrests last year.

This enormous escalation in arrests for low-level marijuana possession, people possessing small amounts of marijuana was made possible by the targeting of and the creation of different impacts on communities of color, specifically the targeting of African Americans and Latinos and even more specifically young African Americans and Latinos.

Now, this is particularly noteworthy because, as you’ll see on page six of this report, we have years of federal data that indicate young African Americans and Latinos actually consume marijuana at lower rates than young Whites. Young African Americans and Latinos actually consume marijuana at lower rates than young Whites. So, to the findings of this report – this report as Ms. Huffman indicated is built on a report that we released a couple of months ago that studied data from counties.

So, the twenty-five large counties in California that indicated that on average, African Americans are arrested at triple the rate of Whites. This data looks at three years of data on twenty-five major cities in California where most marijuana – low-level marijuana possession arrests take place.

So, three years to indicate that it’s not some type of statistical anomaly, that there is a consistent pattern and what we see when we look at cities across California is that, when – where most marijuana possession arrests take place is that African Americans in this state are arrested at four, six, ten and twelve times the rates of Whites, for the same crimes that young Whites actually do more than young African Americans.

In Los Angeles, African Americans are arrested at seven times the rates of Whites, in San Diego six times. In Riverside, it’s just about five times, in Fresno, five times the rate of Whites. In Sacramento, it’s six times the rate and in Bakersfield African Americans are arrested at six times the rate of Whites. In Florence, African Americans are arrested at twelve times the rate of – actually, excuse me, it’s more than thirteen times the rate of Whites.

The Bay Area, where we are today, does not actually conduct very many arrests for this offense, to their credit. Where those arrests occur, the disparities do exist at three or four times. It’s around the state average.

One more thing, just to mention about the findings of the report, African Americans are also arrested far out of proportion to their percentage of the population, not just far in excess of the number of times that Whites are arrested for the same crimes but far in excess of their percentage of the population. Just two examples in Los Angeles, African Americans are 10% of the population, yet they represent just about 35% of all people arrested for low level marijuana possession. In Sacramento, African Americans are 14% of the population but more than 50% of all people arrested for this offense and again African Americans consume marijuana at lower rates than their White counterparts. Three – I’m going to close with three observations.

One is that these disparities, these enormous race based disparities result from routine pervasive system wide police practices. This is not the result of a few racist cops here and there or a racist police department. This is apparently the way the system is supposed to work because it works this way all across the state.

Second, marijuana possession arrests have serious consequences. They create a permanent arrest record that is easily found on the internet by perspective employers, by landlords, by banks, by credit agencies and as a result, pose barriers to employment, to housing, to education for young African Americans in particular and Latinos as well that already face enormous barriers.

Finally, as some of you may know, there’s been a recent change in the law in California that downgrades misdemeanor marijuana possession, from a misdemeanor to an infraction, which is absolutely a step in the right direction. However, it does not solve the problem that this report documents and that’s because the penalties have not changed.

Young people are still subject to being stopped, their information is taken, detained by law enforcement and subject to a $100 fine and you can imagine that the penalties increase from there if you cannot pay that fine or if you can’t provide any identification while you are there stopped on the street or in your car.

The – we believe that the scale of targeting that we have seen in the state over the last twenty years is highly likely to increase, now that this offense has been downgraded from a misdemeanor to an infraction and that is for two reasons.

The first is that police no longer have the – because when you are subject to an infraction you are not required to make a court appearance. So, police are no longer going to be concerned about triggering the court costs that are associated with misdemeanor arrests.

Secondly, the citations are not required to be reported by the Department of Justice. So, this change means that law enforcement is now going to conduct these practices in the dark and there is no – we will not be able to report to you a year from now what the result is. You can imagine what impact that may have on police practices and the bottom line, of course, is that police practices are not likely to change simply because the technical nature of the offense has.

I’m done. I’m going to say that the author – the primary author of the report, Harry Levine, who is a professor of Queens college will be available to any of you who would wish to talk to him over the phone.

We are releasing a companion report of Tuesday morning, which is called, Arresting Latinos for Marijuana in California. We at the Drug Policy Alliance are releasing that with the William Velasquez Institute.


Dean Becker: You are listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network. We’re tuning in to a recent press conference at the NAACP state convention in Oakland, dealing with the subject of racial profiling in the Drug War.


Neil Franklin: I’m Neil Franklin. I’m a thirty-three year long law enforcement veteran, some in the state of Maryland. I’m with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Just in case you don’t know about our organization, we are thousands of law enforcement and former law enforcement drug warriors. We’re not just police officers but judges, prosecutors, corrections officials and prison wardens who have decided to, after spending so many years on the front lines dealing with this issue, decided to come forward to give you our assessment of the so-called war on drugs.

I’m specifically here today as it relates to marijuana and marijuana here in California and Proposition 19. Our organization believes that if drugs are bad for you, this is not an issue of someone’s right to be able to use marijuana. This is an issue of policy that does not work. This is an issue of policy that is damaging to our society and most importantly and specifically damaging to people of color.

What this press conference is about, it’s about dysfunctional public policy. It has been likened to the most dysfunctional public policy since slavery in this country. Now, I don’t have a problem with saying that it’s like slavery because it is. All you have to do is look at the numbers on the reports that are just coming forward to you today. You’ve heard Steven’s statement and you’re going to hear some more statistics as we move forward.

Michelle Alexander, who is author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness, after exhaustive research for her great book she writes, “Nothing has contributed more to the systematic mass incarceration of people of color in the United States because than the war on drugs.”

I don’t care what you are currently hearing about the new statistics from our government that it is not 60-70% regarding the profits being made from marijuana sales in this country. They are now trying to lower it. This was their figure that they put forward a couple of years ago and now their trying to change that.

It is 60-70% regarding the profits that are made from the sale of marijuana in our country. That’s huge and it’s huge for a number of reasons. This policy is devastating to communities for a number of reasons from the law enforcement perspective. The violence that is generated in our communities by this is unbelievable and it is because of the criminal market.

The criminal market that this policy allows for – you know, the lives of young African American males and females being lost every day, even as we stand here right now and talk about statistics. Whether they actually lose their life to violence or lose their life to a prison sentence, they both are devastating.

You heard Steven talk about the searches that are done now by employers or not being able to get a college education and get funding for that and it goes on to housing as they move further down the road – and loans and what have you.

This is an opportunity also for law enforcement to get it right. This is an opportunity for law enforcement to really deal with public issues because we spend a majority of our time right now dealing with low-level drug offenses, mainly marijuana in this country. Because of that, for example in the 1960’s we saw, six out of ten homicides – I’m sorry – nine out of ten homicides, a 90% rate – probability rate and the same thing with rape.

Today we solve six out of ten. So, what are those other three murders doing? What are they doing as we speak here today? See, when you apprehend a rapist, rapes go down. When you apprehend a robber, robberies go down. When you apprehend a murders, murderers – murders go down.

When you take someone off the street for dealing marijuana, sales do not go down. Violence increases because there are now other folks fighting for that market share. The only way they know how to fight for that market share is through violence and guns. We are also missing the mark as it relates to apprehending and tracking pedophiles in this country.

From audience: Yeah… Yes, sir. Yes, sir….yes.

Neil Franklin: Crimes against our children are off the hook –

From audience: That’s right… Yes, sir…

Neil Franklin: Because we are focused on other things. We need to get back to crimes of violence, crimes against people in our community. If you ask young people today why the police come into communities of color, I think you know what the answer is. It is to search for drugs. It is to search us, search our cars and our homes.

I’ll close with this, racial profiling. It is the number one reason, it is the foundation for racial profiling in this country today and that needs to end. Thank you.



Alice Huffman: Now, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Mister Danny Glover.


Danny Glover: Thank you for this opportunity to first of all, state publicly that I lend my support in the passage of Proposition 19 because –

Audience: (Applause) Yeah.

Danny Glover: As stated in various reports and stated by my brothers from LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. The current laws do not work and they need to change. They failed us. They failed young people. We still, despite some changes here in California with reference to the marijuana offense, being categorized first as a misdemeanor and then as an infraction.

We’re still living in a time – in an age when we spoke on marijuana from a vantage point of madness, that people who often use marijuana are labeled as crazy or that you are lead to some form of insanity.

We still have a very draconian mentality about the use of medical marijuana. Everything has been said by many people about why. Certainly, when we look at the statistics relevant to people of color – young people of color and those arrested and for those arrested for marijuana, possession of marijuana but just the proportionality of that. We know that.

We know that marijuana is – the use of marijuana is probably more healthy for you than the use of alcohol but there’s something else beyond our sensibilities. Often, we’re not capable of getting to the real issue around this.

When the NAACP says that the issue is the issue of civil rights, they hit it on the nail. Whether it’s for African American or Latino youth or for White youth, it’s still an issue of civil rights.

I think, if accepting this statement is accepting disposition, then we clear out and create a new space of discourse around where we already cleared out the space with discourse in terms of medical use, particularly for this state and other states, yet particularly in this state and even in this city that you have dispensaries here in use for those marijuana, purchased for those who need it for medical use. We have to kind of – we have to begin to find a way in which this dialog reached the hearts and minds of people and this is the first step.

The passage of Proposition 19 provides us an opportunity to change the course of this discourse. It’s being often quoted and requoted, Carlyle when he says, “No lie lasts forever.” We have an opportunity here to reverse this lie, change this lie, to have information and give the right information to people.

I’m not a marijuana smoker. Now, I have smoked marijuana in the past but I don’t want to stand in the way for those who want to use or smoke marijuana for recreational use.

We talk about what is happening in Mexico and the violence that is in Mexico, the guns and the – even the issue of immigration is indirectly tied to the war on drugs and the violence that created it. When we talk about these particular things, we have to be acceptable about using policy, enacting policy – a policy that in some ways makes the kind of space and creates the openness and dialogue that’s necessary.

Now, understand that the federal government is going to have some kind of conversation about how we react today and that’s seen even in the San Francisco Chronicle, where the federal government has basically said that it will act appropriately, if this law is passed.

That’s them telling you that if you vote for the candidates – the candidates we don’t want, then we won’t allow it. If we don’t agree with you then we are going to punish the citizens of this state – the citizens for voting for that. We can’t allow that to happen. This is a long battle and it’s a long discussion and we’re on the right side of justice. Thank you.


Alice Huffman: Mister Richard Lee

Richard Lee: I’m just going to go real quickly. First of all I want to thank Doctor Elders. I love her for being here and supporting Prop 19 and everybody else who’s here supporting Prop 19. I’ve always seen cannabis prohibition as causing a war between the police and it’s citizens. That’s no good.

We can’t have – the police are there to protect and serve us, not to wage war on the populace. So, we need to end cannabis prohibition, get the police back in the job of the real criminals, the real sociopaths and predators out there, not trying to protect us from ourselves. Thank you.


Alice Huffman: This is Jocelyn Elders, former Surgeon General of the United States.


Jocelyn Elders: Thank you. I certainly want to thank California and the NAACP and the researchers who performed this research to really support something that we were saying fifteen, twenty and forty years ago.

We are spending billions of dollars each year on the war on drugs, when we need to start spending – it’s been a war on young black males and I think today has demonstrated that and I think it’s time for us to end that war. Wars are supposed to end sometime.

Audience: Hey! Hey!

Jocelyn Elders: So, I think now’s the time to look at what we can do. I think Prop 19 has the opportunity of taking drugs out of the hands of the drug cartels and putting it into the hands where it can be controlled and taxed.

We are not talking about selling to children. We’re talking about people over twenty-one. Allowing you to have an ounce, if you so desire. That’s what we need to be thinking about. If young people get convicted of a marijuana crime, they end up – they can’t get money to go to college when they definitely need it to get educated.

Audience: Right!

Jocelyn Elders: These are things we need to start making sure that we fight about, talk about it. Politicians won’t talk about it! The reason they don’t talk about it is because we all jump up and we go crazy.

One time, when I said we should legalize marijuana, better then us going around and jailing our young instead of putting them in – the whole nation went crazy.

Audience: Amen!

Jocelyn Elders: It’s time that we began to have a sensible attack and look at what we can do to educate. Marijuana has been used for 5,000 years.

Audience: Yes ma’am.

Jocelyn Elders: It never killed anybody that we know about. There’s never been a toxic death that’s been associated with smoking marijuana. I don’t know of any other drug that we’ve got

Audience: Tell the truth.

Jocelyn Elders: There’s aspirin. Think of all the deaths that it’s caused already. Alcohol – tobacco causes over 450,000 deaths a year. So, I’m saying that it’s time for us to look at this sensibly and make a sensible – do the right thing.

Stop using up our police officers by arresting people for marijuana use and letting the rapists, the murders and violent criminals go free.



Dean Becker: We’ve been listening to a press conference at the NAACP state convention in Oakland last Friday. We close now with the words of the President of the California NAACP, Alice Huffman.

Alice Huffman: I don’t think there’s any question in anybody’s mind after you’ve heard these presentations and looked at these charts as to whether or not this is a civil rights issue. If you don’t believe it’s a civil rights issue then you don’t believe in justice in America. If you don’t believe in civil rights issues then you don’t believe in equity in America.

Government has always been an oppressor until we say stop, at least for African Americans and this is another case where we say stop. Enough is enough. You’re not supposed to target your community. You’re not supposed to criminalize your community.

I’m not abdicating – like I said, everybody’s got their reason for being here. I’m not necessarily abdicating for more use of marijuana. It is a narcotic but I’ll tell you one thing, I am advocating that government get out of the business of regulating people’s lives morally and just take cars of government laws that they should take care of.


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Dean Becker: Following this press conference, newspapers around the country, maybe opened their eyes. This from the Los Angeles Times, “Blacks more likely to be arrested for pot possession than Whites.” From the San Jose Mercury News, “Report: Racial bias evident in marijuana arrests.” From, “California NAACP, marijuana legalization a civil rights issue.” Perhaps the most damning of all, a New York Times column, Smoke and Horrors by Charles M. Blow which ends with this phrase, “When will politicians have the courage to stand up, acknowledge this fact and stop allowing young minority men to be collateral damage?”

As always, I remind you that because of prohibition, you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful.


To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Drug Truth Network programs are archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.