The same week the DEA announced it was rejecting the petition to remove marijuana from its Schedule 1 list, alongside Heroin, to Schedule 2, putting it in the same class as cocaine, pictures surfaced of Malia Obama toking on what appears to be a joint just weeks before she is due to start Harvard. Could there be any greater example of the disconnect between the Government and the People when it comes to marijuana?
The fact that the daughter of a sitting president smokes weed at roughly the same age as most young people including her father isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise is that the DEA continues to live and even thrive in a reality where the War on Drugs wrecks more non-presidential lives.
If Malia weren’t the president’s daughter and was heading into a job as a bank teller, nurse assistant or hundreds of other jobs, the picture alone would be grounds for dismissal. These jobs require urine testing for drugs, and the byproducts of marijuana stay in the body for a month, sometimes more. The military has been known to test hair samples to go well beyond that month window, meaning that an innocent toke while on leave with friends at home can mean facing charges upon return.
In the US we live in a culture where most people have smoked weed at one time or another in their lives, yet those who are caught breaking the law face disproportionate levels of justice. For white suburban kids growing up in Reagan’s America in the 1980s that meant a stint at Rehab and probation. For those of lesser means it meant jail time. Even today while the stigma of “weed” has almost disappeared, the laws have not caught up to public perceptions and attitudes. The result is prosecutorial leeway in which wealthy kids tend to get off more easily when prosecuted, while poorer kids face harsher penalties.
These penalties can follow kids for the rest of their lives. A drug conviction can rule out decent paying jobs, and with employers using online tools, it’s impossible for offenders to hide the conviction. Even arrests are captured in public records, and expunging records can be costly if not futile. If you think it’s hard to fix a mistake in your credit history, try fixing a public record.
I have no idea why the President has refused to act during his nearly 8 years in power to end the war on drugs and the ruined lives that result. Such action would not only be supported by his progressive base, but the libertarian and libertarian minded in the opposition. As a critic of the president for over 9 years I have my suspicions, mostly having to do with the relinquishing of government power. But as an African-American and a parent, one would have hoped that he would see the suffering of the African-American community and the damage to families that result from America’s drug policies.
Kids smoke weed. Some adults do too, and it is time to legalize it across the country. Every day it remains illegal means that young black women will be facing a far harsher world than the one awaiting Malia Obama.