Weed, Washington, and a Wicked Cycle

The “system” spoken of in the term “systemic oppression” is a devilishly intricate piece of machinery. In the American sense, it was forged from several centuries’ worth of enslaving, lynching, miseducating, litigating, suppressing, redistricting, policing, and a litany of further -ings that I haven’t the time nor the energy to list. It is the time-tested handiwork of millions, alive and dead, who specifically designed its functions for longevity. Ideally, for immortality.

A Wicked Drug?

Though there isn’t a way to peer into infinity and see whether the system succeeds, we know from the most casual observation that it at least remains chugging along today. And how has it managed to go on this long? The simplest answer is that its architects sought and still seek immortality by way of the cycle. Purposefully unmoneyed and uneducated parents yield purposefully unmoneyed and uneducated children. The children turn to crime or, God forbid, get drunk or high to temporarily remedy their purposefully dire situations. Drugs, whether sold or bought, get them forced into handcuffs at wildly disproportionate rates. Their criminal records further cripple their professional and financial potential. They yield purposefully unmoneyed and uneducated children. The cycle repeats.

The inner mechanics of the cycle, perhaps inevitably, are not well hidden. For example, let us consider the way that the possession of marijuana, a relatively unwicked drug in the compendium of narcotics, is policed in America. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws have both noted that identical rates of marijuana use between white and Black Americans have not stopped the latter from being almost four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses. Though Washington, DC concerningly refused to release their 2018 marijuana arrest data to the ACLU for the aforementioned study. However, we know that a 2013 study by the same organization found that Black Washingtonians were eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than their non-black counterparts.

Harm or Help?

It should be obvious that drugs and alcohol are not merely the mark of the shiftless, self-immolating crowd. Gone are the days when the physical and mental health benefits of marijuana use were regularly overshadowed by social stigmas. We know now that weed helps our athletes, our veterans, our sick, and suffering. And to be constantly crushed under the foot of a system designed specifically for your personal demise is to suffer.

In a deeply underprivileged community, the kind that Black Americans disproportionately populate, marijuana is more attainable than, say, a therapist. It provides relief, however brief, from the bitter reality of marginalized existence. How does one cope with witnessing their friends die or with narrowly escaping death themselves? With always feeling one errant word or step away from destruction? With fear, depression, and abject poverty that imprisonment and even death can feel preferable to?

However, we choose to answer these questions is ultimately irrelevant to the American carceral system and the powers supporting it. For all of the country’s various police departments’ talk of establishing trust in their communities and being invested in the common good, their arrest records demonstrate a consistent disinterest in either of those goals. In many cases, Black people are smoking weed to distract themselves from unsettling thoughts. Thoughts like how easily they could become the next person to be treated unfairly by the police. The police respond unsympathetically by doing exactly this, making an already hard life even harder for the crime of self-medication.

What’s Really Needed

In the District, a place that was once Black enough to be called “Chocolate City,” it’s especially irresponsible to uphold this brand of policing, let alone uphold it to a degree that surpasses national standards. If DC wants to continue taking pride in its diversity, its go-go, and its hundreds of murals of Black icons, it must also work for the benefit of the people behind those contributions. Hopefully, this was considered in conjunction with Mayor Bowser’s plan to significantly bolster the ranks of the Metropolitan Police Department. Even if she’s right—and I’m not sure of this—to conclude that the city is in need of more police, more pressing still is the District’s need for compassion.

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