California Ponders Marijuana Legalization
The November 2 elections promise some shuffling of the imperialist representatives in government, but as usual with elections where the choices are limited to different flavors of imperialist leaders, there will be no real change. One ballot initiative that did catch our attention is Proposition 19 in California which would legalize and regulate marijuana.
In an attempt to reduce support for Prop 19, on 30 September 2010 California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law that changes the punishment for possession of less than an ounce of pot to just a fine. This reduces the potential impact of Prop 19 and should cut down on the number of people in prison for marijuana possession. But even arrests and convictions without a prison sentence have negative repercussions, so Prop 19 goes farther in limiting the reach of the state in terms of possession laws.
MIM(Prisons) supports any laws that will cut back on the number of people locked up in prison or otherwise controlled by the imperialist state. We know that drug laws (like other laws) are disproportionately prosecuted against oppressed nations within U.$. borders, resulting in huge numbers of Blacks and Latinos behind bars. For this reason we would support legalizing all drugs to take power away from the imperialist government and its criminal injustice system.
In 2009, just over half of the drug arrests were for marijuana (848,408 out of 1,663,583).(1) Marijuana arrests are growing as a proportion of total drug arrests in the U.$., up to 52.6% in 2009 from 39.9% in 1995. This is driven by arrests for simple possession, the percentage of arrests for marijuana trafficking has not changed much over time.(2)
Adding to these statistics on marijuana arrests is compelling information on the disproportionate use of marijuana laws against Black men in California. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice reports:
"African Americans, just 6% of the state's population...comprise a staggering 45% of the 1,600 Californians imprisoned for marijuana, including more than half of those locked up for marijuana felonies. Blacks are nearly 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than other races, a racial gap only slightly wider than for other crimes. But after African Americans enter California's 'Black marijuana system,' disparities multiply more than for any other offense. Seven in 10 Black marijuana arrestees are charged with felonies, compared to one-fifth for other races. Blacks convicted of marijuana felonies are 3 times more likely to be sent to prison than Nonblack marijuana felons. The upshot of these accumulating discriminations is that Blacks wind up being imprisoned for marijuana at 8 times the rate of Hispanics and 18 times the rate of Whites. At older ages, the Black-Nonblack marijuana imprisonment gap soars to nearly 4,000%... No other offense (including violent, property, and other crimes) and no other drug (including heroin, methamphetamine, and crack) even remotely displays the huge racial discrepancies in imprisonment for marijuana."(3)
The new law would not completely eliminate marijuana arrests and prosecutions, primarily because it restricts the legal age to 21 and only allows possession of small quantities, but they would be greatly reduced. In addition, the federal government has promised to challenge the constitutionality of Prop 19 if it passes, and to enforce the federal laws in California regardless. Of course we can't look at these laws in a vacuum, the criminal injustice system will not cut back on the police force or shrink the prisons simply because one law changes. Cops will just find other reasons to arrest people, and those people will continue to be disproportionately Black and Latino.
Even worse, cities like Oakland will likely be using the new tax revenues to restore its recently cut back police force. The city stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries if the law passes, as it is home to Oaksterdam University, which will be licensing large growing and distribution centers under the new law. The financial interests behind Oaksterdam University bankrolled the introduction of Prop 19 to the November ballot. Los Angeles campus chancellor Jeff Jones pointed out that support has come primarily from the jobs and tax revenue angle. He says that focusing on imprisonment rates gets little support from Californians.
While the imperialists run the global drug trade, here the state is partnering with corporate interests to take over the local industry, which has been the domain of the lumpen class. Following the national liberation movements of the sixties many in the ghetto who didn't see the Amerikan dream through integration were able to find an income through the drug economy. By the 1970s, Italians, Jews and others who dominated black markets, in particular drugs, had long been integrated into white Amerika. Whites left the inner cities for the suburbs where they could become richer more easily by joining a growing financial sector, allowing for Black and Latino gangs to take over profitable street crime in their own areas. Organized crime, led by the CIA, backed the most individualistic and destructive emerging groups, while repressing Black and Brown power movements and flooding these neighborhoods with cocaine.(4)
Faced with economic crisis today, white Amerika wants these jobs back. And the state is leading the charge, hoping to reach a new tax source to close huge shortfalls in paying their bureaucrat employees - especially their pigs, who account for 85% of city spending in Oakland (police & fire combined).(5) But whites aren't forming a new mafia (at least not exactly). Instead they formed a new university to train and certify workers in the industry and they have joined labor unions to ensure wages of $25.75 an hour with pensions, paid vacations and health insurance.(6) In contrast, reports from the 1990s showed that most in the drug game in the inner cities made around minimum wage and worked long hours (needless to say with no benefits).(7) So the state hopes to shrink the workforce in drug sales and production, pay a few trained workers a nice sum, and increase their share of profits from the sale of marijuana to pay cops and other state employees. In the process, the economic crisis will be passed along to the lumpen who will become ever more desperate to make ends meet. This will lead to more violence and problems, and make the need for self-determination more dire in oppressed nation communities that lack legal job markets.
While MIM(Prisons) supports the passage of laws that result in fewer people in prison, we are under no illusions that even full legalization of drugs in Amerika will solve the drug problems here. As we have seen with alcohol, legalization of a drug does not make for safe use. Amerikan culture is alienating and leads to rampant legal and illegal drug abuse. According to a World Health Organization survey of 17 countries across the globe, the U.$ leads the world in users of both legal and illegal drugs. Drug use is correlated with wealth of a country with the richer countries having a higher percentage of drug users.(8)
It will take a revolution to create a culture that allows people to feel valuable, safe and empowered and not in need of the easy escape that can be found in drugs. After the revolution in China, the Maoist-led country basically eliminated drug addiction through community-based campaigns. Drug addiction, particularly to opium, was a widespread problem imported by the British. But after the revolution there was a strong focus on helping drug addicts get clean, and on giving everyone useful work and education as well as health care. This campaign, combined with a strategy of wiping out opium growing and distribution in favor of much needed food crops, virtually eliminated the drug problems in China by the early 1950s. Only with a government that serves the people rather than working to enrich its imperialist masters will we be able to eliminate drug abuse and the criminal injustice system. As we work towards such a system we will support laws that result in fewer people in prison, but we know the impact of these laws will be minimal at best.