How Marijuana Became Legal (For White People)

waiting-to-inhaleSince thirteen states have legalized marijuana for medical use, with another fifteen possibly doing the same by next year, Roger Parloff argues in a humongous Fortune magazine feature ("How Marijuana Became Legal") that the plant has essentially been legitimized, at least on a "local-option" basis. Moreover, medical marijuana in California offers the benefit of an economic model for how pot might be merchandized in the event of legalization. But watch out for that backlash:

They've been afforded the chance to show a skeptical public that a safe, seemly, and responsible system for distributing marijuana is possible. If they succeed, they'll convince the fence sitters and lead the way to a nationwide metamorphosis.

If they fail, the backlash will be savage. If communities cannot adequately regulate the dispensaries, they'll descend into unsightly, youth-seducing, crime-ridden playgrounds for gang-bangers, and this flirtation with legalization will conclude the way the last one did: with a swift and merciless swing of the pendulum.

Of course, if you happen to live in New York City, whose mayor has famously admitted to smoking pot and "loving" it, marijuana has been virtually decriminalized for years – for white people. Because the dirty little secret of this East Coast gomorrah is that New York practically leads the country, if not the world, in small-quantity pot busts. Some 40,000 possession arrests went on the books in both 2008 and 2007, and 80% of those busted were citizens of color. Check out New York magazine's "The Splitting Image of Pot," Mark Jacobson's excellent personal and social overview of the state of the stone in the Big Apple Bong.

Harry Levine, a Queens College sociology professor who has been compiling marijuana arrest figures for years, says, “The cops prefer pot busts. They’re easy, because the people are almost never violent and, as opposed to drunks, hardly ever throw up in the car. Some of this has to do with the reduction in crime over the years. Pot arrests are great for keeping the quota numbers up. These kind of arrests toss people into the system, get their fingerprints on file. The bias of these arrests is in the statistics.”

Jacobson might have buried his lead, however:

The kicker in this is the apparently almost unknown fact that possession of 25 grams, or seven-eighths of an ounce—much more than the few joints that are getting people arrested—is not a crime in New York State and has not been since the passage of the Marijuana Reform Act of 1977, or 32 years ago. (Right here add sound of potheads slapping their foreheads, like, how come they didn’t know that?) There are exceptions, however. If the pot is “burning or open to public view,” then the 25-gram deal is off. It is this provision that has been the basis for the arrest outbreak, many civil libertarians contend.