Are you opposed to marijuana legalization? If you're a old, white politician, you should probably shut your face.
That's the position that Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) took Monday night during an appearance on Sean Hannity's Fox News program. Hannity asked the potential 2016 presidential contender to elaborate on recent comments regarding potential 2016 primary opponent Jeb Bush's "hypocrisy" on marijuana laws, following Bush's admission that he smoked marijuana in high school.
Paul challenged the former governor over his stance, which does not even allow for the legalization of medical marijuana, let alone the lessening of sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. "This is a guy who now admits he smoked marijuana but he wants to put people in jail who do," Paul told The Hill. "I think that's the real hypocrisy, is that people on our side, which include a lot of people who made mistakes growing up, admit their mistakes but now still want to put people in jail for that"
"I'm not really promoting legalization, but I am promoting making the penalties much less severe and not putting people in jail for 10, 20, 30 years," Paul told Hannity on Monday, pointed out the inequity of rich white people serving no time for smoking pot while poor black people end up in the prison system. "I think it is hypocritical for very wealthy white people who have all the resources to evade the drug laws."
He's not wrong: The racial disparity in marijuana arrests is well documented by groups like the ACLU. A 2013 report found that black citizens are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, even though the two groups use marijuana at similar rates.
The ACLU also found that these racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist "in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small black populations. Indeed, in over 96% of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2% of the residents are black, blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession."
The FBI crime data paints a disturbing picture of marijuana arrests in the United States. Even though more blacks than whites say they've never used marijuana ...
... blacks are still more likely to face arrest for possession.
Marijuana legalization isn't just an economic issue — it's a civil rights issue. For many advocates, marijuana legalization isn't just a way to bring in extra tax revenue; it's a way to keep young black men from having their lives ruined by crime for which white offenders often receive a slap on the wrist.
"Marijuana possession and use has been decriminalized in Philadelphia for years ... if you're a white person," Philadelphia Councilman Jim Kenney told Mic in September after the city council approved an initiative that would decriminalize marijuana. "If you're a tailgater at an Eagle game, waiting for a Willie Nelson or Phish concert, or hanging out at a frat party, you'll basically never be arrested for possession."
For lawmakers like Kenney — and, in turn, national figures like Paul — legalization is more about stopping America's senseless war on drugs and keeping innocent citizens out of jail for what's essentially a victimless crime.
"Keeping it out of the criminal courts and keeping it a civil offense is groundbreaking in Philadelphia. An arrest record for possession under an ounce results in a criminal record, which makes getting a job virtually impossible and basically makes receiving college aid or serving in the military out of the question," Kenney told Mic. "It keeps people from progressing and becoming good taxpaying citizens and it puts them on the path to towards poverty."