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Est. April 5, 2002
January 10, 2019 - Issue 771

Legalized Recreational Marijuana,
Minority Students, and Democrats

"In those states where recreational marijuana
has been legalized, public school students of
color in poverty-stricken neighborhoods are at great
risk for being further victimized by this drug since
the use rate is already high among adults and youth."

Now that the 2018 midterms are in the rear view mirror, it is time to assess their implications for minority students in K-12 public education - African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. During the next few weeks, we will examine different elements of this continuing crisis.

Economic empowerment zones for American communities of high unemployment; vouchers, educational savings accounts, and charter schools to revive urban public education; and lowering taxes for U.S. corporations and the nation’s richest one percent allegedly have been designed, in part, to alleviate the poverty and suffering of our low-income minority citizens. Now add to that list the legalization of marijuana for recreational use which disproportionately targets poor and minority citizens. It is the latest silver bullet supposedly intended to reduce inequality between the rich and the rest of us.

This proposition, like a traveling medicine show, is offering cannabis as a snake oil elixir that will: reduce the incarceration of minorities for the illegal use and sale of this product; empty the jails of those with marijuana-related convictions; and provide them with business opportunities through which they could become millionaires and/or solidly middle class.

It is such an appealing message to the downtrodden and their representatives that it has caught fire and has led to the passage of legalizing recreational marijuana legislation in ten states and the District of Columbia. Several others are in the queue to be next (New Jersey, New York, and Illinois). It is assumed that cannabis has less of a negative impact than alcohol or prescription drugs and that it is not a gateway to use of and addiction to harder drugs and opioids, without any substantial data to back up that claim.

Black celebrities and athletes - Method man and Redman (hip hop), Cliff Robinson (former NBA player), the Bob Marley family (Reggae), Whoopi Goldberg, etc. - have served as minority fronts for mega-cannabis investors. Yet the primary customers they pursue are mostly people from minority ethnic groups in major cities in the states where it has been legalized for recreational purposes—Newark, New Jersey; Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, Long Beach, and Oakland, California; Seattle, Washington; Denver Colorado; Portland, Oregon; Detroit, Michigan; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Washington, D.C.--which have school systems that are comprised of majority-minority and poor student populations.

In those states where recreational marijuana has been legalized, public school students of color in poverty-stricken neighborhoods are at great risk for being further victimized by this drug since the use rate is already high among adults and youth. Students are in danger of exposure to an increase in mental illness (psychosis and schizophrenia), being placed on a gateway to harder drugs and addictions, and being involved in more and serious car accidents due to the impairment of their evolving ability to make good decisions.

Minority students suffering from mild mental deficiencies will also have their destructive school and community behaviors exacerbated by increased use of high powered cannabis plants.

The latter are significantly influenced by the increased potency of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is up to sixty-five percent or higher than what was found in earlier plants due to genetic engineering. Cannabis is being packaged to be vaped, made into edibles (cookies, brownies, candies, etc.). The aforementioned provisions are specifically focused on minority students in poor neighborhoods where many of their parents and other adults are the preferred customers for marijuana sales since they already have high consumption rates.

The issue is a bipartisan one with Democratic elected officials leading the way. Of the ten states and Washington, D.C., where it has been passed, eight Democratic governors or constituencies have signed-off on the legislation with the strong support of minority voters, grassroots leaders, and clergy. It is indeed ironic that many of the billionaires in the Cartel of educational reformers, and their conservative allies who have jumpstarted public school privatization, have also invested in cannabis businesses to profit off poor students of color some more.

Also, as has been the case with the Cartel, contemporary cannabis robber barons are funding Democrats at every level of government. In New Jersey, New York, and Illinois, next in line, they are pumping millions of dollars into the campaign coffers of Democrats. After Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) was elected in 2017, his first legislative initiative was a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana. A casual review of his campaign finance records revealed that he received millions of dollars from investors and employees in the cannabis industry.

He has also aligned himself with a convicted African American hard drug trafficker who served time in prison where he found the Lord and became a minister. Murphy will keynote the former drug dealer’s Martin Luther King Day Celebration this year where he will brag about what he is doing for blacks. Hopefully, the Governor does not suggest that Dr. King would have supported the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Gov. Murphy has spent his first year in office struggling to pass his cannabis bill after promising the marijuana investors in his campaign that it would get it done during his first 100 days. He initially led many to believe that the jails and prisons would release the minorities who were serving sentences for marijuana possession and distribution, that their convictions would be expunged from their records, and that minority businesses would receive cannabis licenses to sell the drug. None of this is true.

Passage of the recreational marijuana bill has been stymied by the anti-legalization advocacy of a trio of African Americans: Bishop Jethro James, Assemblyman Jamel C. Holley (D), and veteran State Senator Ron Rice (D) who has called for an impact study that is required by law. Their pushback to Murphy’s cannabis legislation—pointing out its negative social and health consequences for children of color and exposing his lies about its benefits--has kept the legislation in limbo for more than a year in a state where Democrats control all three branches of state government.

But even more interesting is the fact that nearly 40 municipalities have already banned marijuana sales if the law is passed, including Middleton where he has a $9.5 million mansion. Maybe, just maybe, he feels that legalizing recreational is best for majority-minority cities and working-class whites.

We need to save minority children from again being used as pawns to generate corporate profits.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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