Black Americans were four times as likely to get arrested for marijuana possession as white Americans in 2017, despite similar usage rates, Booker noted.
In a new interview with MSNBC, Sen. Cory Booker underlined racial disparities in marijuana enforcement as just one example of the failings in America’s current justice system. Booker’s response comes as Americans have protested against police brutality and social inequities in multiple cities this week following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
These protests highlight deep, institutionalized flaws in our current system, Booker stated, and require ongoing efforts by Americans to correct.
“I’ve seen this pattern play out where you see an uproar of outrage, but then we get back into a regular system where we don’t understand that this is not a sometimes thing,” Booker said. “This kind of racism, this kind of bigotry is so institutionalized that it puts so many of our fellow countrymen and women at risk every day.”
These disparities play out in issues like the enforcement of drug policies. One example, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has noted, is the minimum sentencing gap between possession of crack and cocaine. Distributing just 5 grams of crack results in a minimum 5-year federal prison sentence. That same sentence is applied to anyone distributing 500 grams of cocaine.
“Because of its relative low cost, crack cocaine is more accessible for poor Americans, many of whom are African Americans,” the ACLU writes. “Conversely, powder cocaine is much more expensive and tends to be used by more affluent white Americans.”
Booker noted similar imbalances in marijuana enforcement, which disproportionately targets black Americans.
“There are no differences between blacks and whites for using the drug, but there was more marijuana arrests in 2017 than all violent crime arrests combined, and blacks were four times more likely to be arrested for it,” Booker said.
“Each one of those data points impact the lives of people that are being destroyed — can’t get a job, can’t get a loan from the bank — for doing things that two of the last three presidents admitted doing,” he added.
Booker has sponsored legislation that would legalize marijuana at the federal level. The bill includes social equity programs that include expunging the majority of marijuana-related arrest records. The National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws (NORML) released a statement earlier this week that while marijuana legalization will not solve racial injustice in America, it can be “an important part of this emerging discussion.”