Hell, more or less, froze over in late January, and it had nothing to do with nationwide winter storms. Mississippi’s hyper-conservative GOP-dominated Senate openly passed around a knock-off joint.
“Well, they’ll stone you when you’re tryna be so good,” recited Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, who approached the Senate podium with the intent to kill off every ounce of coolness in a Bob Dylan song. “They’ll stone you just like they said they would. They’ll stone you when you’re walking on the street. They’ll stone you when you’re tryna keep your seat. … They’ll stone you when you’re riding in your car. They’ll stone you when you’re playing your guitar. But I would not feel so all alone. Everybody must get stoned.”
Blackwell said his gormless musical rendition served to mock the “almost hysterical, paranoid ‘Reefer Madness’, Chicken Little belief expressed by a few skeptics” of medical marijuana.
“(They act like) if we pass a medical cannabis bill the streets of Mississippi will be flooded by pot-smoking zombies, crime will explode, planes will fall from the sky and the world we know will simply come to an end,” Blackwell told the Senate. “… It’s simply not true.”
Blackwell lauded the benefits of marijuana in treating cancer and AIDS victims, and then leisurely distributed a 1.5-gram spliff. He also passed around a 3.5-gram packet of “only hemp” and an additional 1-ounce package, in order to show his fellow senators that an ounce is “not the size of a loaf of bread,” as recently claimed on a conservative talk radio program.
“I don’t know where (talk radio) get(s) their bread,” he told senators, while glibly asking senators to take care in passing his stash to Sen. Joel Carter, R-Harrison County. “Make sure I get these back,” he told them.
Senators eventually passed Senate Bill 2095 with an impressive 46-5 vote, which could count as a veto-proof majority if Gov. Tate Reeves remains opposed to the bill. The bill allows the legal purchase of 3.5 ounces of marijuana, which exceeds Reeves’ preference. The legislation is the Senate’s attempt to quell outrage at the medical marijuana fiasco triggered by the state supreme court after it fell over itself trying to please Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler last year. Butler opposes pot dispensaries in her overpriced parasite community, and to kill the successful statewide ballot initiative legalizing pot, the fawning court had to obliterate the entire ballot initiative process. Six justices ruled the medical marijuana initiative void under the argument that the state’s initiative process itself was outdated. This maneuver deep-sixed several citizen-led initiatives and killed what was arguably Mississippi’s most democratic process.
In passing SB 2095 last week, the mostly white Mississippi senate is finally on the cusp of joining 35 other U.S. states that allow some legal use of marijuana, whether for medical or recreational use. Illegal marijuana is one of many outdated “morality laws” still plaguing the nation, and despite the various chuckles filling the Senate, illegal cannabis is a decades-old cudgel designed to destroy communities, imprison Black people and undermine young voters looking to change the U.S. political system.
The ACLU revealed that Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. This deplorable state of things is not by accident.
President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in 1971 because he couldn’t legally declare war on Black people, according to his co-workers. Top Nixon aide, John Ehrlichman, told Harper’s Magazine in the 1990s that “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people.”
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news,” Ehrlichman admitted. “Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”
Critics say Ehrlichman’s claim is a vicious oversimplification, that he might have felt betrayed by Nixon after Nixon left him to stew in prison over the former president’s Watergate scandal. Others say Nixon merely despised drugs on a very dangerous, fundamental level. Nixon was a proven racist, however, and his national drug war successfully expanded the size and presence of federal drug control agencies. It also pumped out oppressive measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants, all of which turned local law enforcement into a tool for hollowing out and brutalizing Black communities. Even today, police advocate heavily for illegal marijuana, arguably because the smell of cannabis remains an effective tool for pulling over Black drivers and over-policing Black neighborhoods. The results show in arrest reports.
“Even though whites out-number Blacks five to one and both groups use and sell drugs at similar rates, African-Americans comprise … 35% of those arrested for drug possession; 55% of those convicted for drug possession; and 74% of those imprisoned for drug possession,” the ACLU reports.
After whole decades of targeting Black people for drug offenses cops can’t seem to stop doing it, even after weed is legalized, according to news sources. “Black Coloradans arrested at Twice the Rate of White People Nearly a Decade After Pot Legalization,” claims Colorado News Online. The Chicago Tribune, meanwhile, claims weed legalization gives whites a charming “boutique experience,” while Black Chicago residents got three times the number of arrests for marijuana-related offenses in 2020.
Taking their numbers from the Chicago Police Department’s own arrest totals, the paper announced that “during the first year of marijuana legalization, Black people led all ethnic groups in arrests with 2,311, making up more than three-quarters of all marijuana arrests in Chicago. Latinos made up the second highest number of arrests with 506.”
The paper even included a graph which is bound to piss you off.
So, in Chicago, Black people get 2,311 marijuana-related arrests while white people get 117 arrests for that same year.
Tyrone F. Muhammad, executive director of Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change, spelled it out plainly for Chicago reporters: “You still incarcerate us at a higher rate than anyone for the same product you just made legal, and allow white men to set up drug houses in every suburb (and) town, and lock us up and kick our doors in for the same product.”
So, yeah, Sen. Kevin Blackwell and his chums can probably afford to yuck it up on the Senate floor over pot legalization. To white folks it’s just another laughing matter. But while legalizing pot via the “Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act” is indeed a significant step in removing a devastating, neighborhood-killing tool of racism from an increasingly militarized law enforcement system, we know it’s still only a first step. The underlying racism driving this massive system busting Black people and decimating whole neighborhoods isn’t going anywhere as long as we keep swathing the issue in the guise of “medical marijuana” and cancer victims.