You could ask my father and brothers if they were still alive to tell you their side of the story. You see I am far from new to this discussion. My father was a heroin dealer in the 1960s and 70s. Leaving the game, he was murdered before he could testify in a federal case. My twin brother Christopher, a crack gang kingpin, was gunned down in a drug turf war by a rival gang and my older brother Don, a self-medicator who succumbed to HIV/AIDS, would scratch, sniff, smoke or shoot up anything he could get his hands on. My mother once pawned her wedding rings to get Donnie out of jail on a marijuana possession charge. He died broke and alone in a hospice room.
Despite what my learned colleagues might tell you, there is nothing progressive about laws that will effectively deepen the chasm of inequities in the criminalization of marijuana. Even in the short-term, while we are still working out the kinks, the dispossessed black and brown masses will be lining courtrooms and serving time.
When they tell you this is about lessening the strain of law enforcement, don’t believe them. It’s about advancing—even if unintentionally– institutionalized profiling. It’s a license to descend upon every street corner and alleyway in search of illegal weed peddlers. Aside from tourism and real estate, the prison industrial complex is among the biggest employers in Colorado. That will not change. Those metal prison beds, run by private for-profit companies, must still be sold. And we know who will not be sleeping in them.
In cities across Colorado and around the country, young black and brown boys are still doing jail time and losing educational and job opportunities as a result of over-policing. A drug conviction will get a whole family tossed out of public housing. Under this new law, those who see relief will be among the moneyed, privileged class.
So it’s distressing to see my learned colleagues thump their chests over the end of pot prohibition when the new law re-doubles the lock-out for so many who cannot afford the legal market. Maybe pot should be legalized. But this method is rife with elitist thinking and further feeds the over criminalization of the least of these.
It is easy to dismiss the plight of the illegal drug dealer on its face and focus on consumers. After all, individuals can grow up to six plants at home, provided they are enclosed and locked. But I would posit that it is in our collective best interest not to turn away. Take away the only livelihood they know, and they will find something else you may not like—such as harder drugs to manufacture and sell or property crimes. Or they find ways to expand an existing market. Marijuana use among teenagers, even though barred from buying under the new law, is on the rise. Do nothing and expect them to be targeted with greater zeal.
If we were truly interested in curing the injustices, the governor would issue pardons or at least call for the conviction of every inmate serving time for simple possession to be set-aside. If not for the steady revenue that comes with locking up petty dealers, Colorado would offer business training and investment dollars so that former street merchants could open their own stores or go to work in existing ones.
In time, the market may well normalize. Regulated supplies will likely increase and prices will fall, especially when (not if) Big Business gets involved. And when they do, lobbyists’ dollars will flow through the halls of the state capitol in an attempt to ensure the death of the black market. We can also expect that with the lure of “clean money”, deep-pocketed drug cartels, using straw owners and other avenues, will find their way back into the game.
Barring any additional reforms, black market dealers will be put out of business and jailed. Or worse. They will die fighting over the last scrap of turf — tragically human cost too many are all too willing to pay.
Editor’s Note: This has been a #breakingBLACK column. Goldie Taylor is a featured Grio columnist and her #breakingBlack columns will regularly appear every Monday. Follow Goldie Taylor on Twitter at @GoldieTaylor, and join the discussion at @theGrio with the hashtag #BreakingBlack.