With both Denver and Seattle playing this week’s Super Bowl, the news is full of marijuana puns, and jokes about the #StonerBowl. Yet as someone invested in the drug policy reform movement and acutely aware of how much marijuana prohibition has harmed communities of color, I struggle to find the humor.
The irony of the Super Pot Bowl being held in the stadium of the two New York City football teams should not be lost on anyone. New York, after all, is the marijuana arrest capital of the world, with tens of thousands of marijuana possession arrests every year. Young Black and Latino men make up over 85 percent of the arrests in New York City; and in areas like Buffalo and Syracuse, it’s over 90 percent.
As my second-favorite Manning brother throws touchdowns, somewhere in Bedford Stuyvesant, a young Black man will face his first arrest – handcuffed, taken to the station, photographed, fingerprinted, and given a permanent arrest record – all for a simple marijuana possession.
Keep in mind that the state of New York decriminalized marijuana in 1977, but due to racially biased policing, it remains the #1 arrest in NYC and among the top arrests in the entire state. For young men of color, marijuana really is a gateway drug – a gateway into the criminal injustice system.
In fact, marijuana prohibition is one of the main engines of mass incarceration and the cause of the large racial disproportionality in the criminal injustice system. Black and Latino men arrested for non-violent drug offenses comprise a majority of the US prison system and most for marijuana.
We must beat the drums for justice and support our elected officials who show leadership for reform. President Obama said, “We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”
The wins in Colorado and Washington - the first states to legalize marijuana - are victories for everyone but we must acknowledge the fact that Colorado and Washington and other states believed to be next up to end prohibition - like Alaska and Oregon - have considerably small populations of Black and Latino people.
I can’t help but wonder when will states with large populations of those most impacted by marijuana prohibition take steps to reform their laws? Ending marijuana prohibition in states like New York, Texas, and California could help shatter the glass ceiling on the racist War on Drugs. Because ending marijuana prohibition in these states will force us to explicitly confront the original reason marijuana was made illegal: racism.
So New Yorkers, as we suffer through the influx of Super Bowl tourists, do not ignore the irony of hosting teams from the two states to have ended marijuana prohibition.
Let’s act on it.
It is time to recognize that ending marijuana prohibition can and should be a tool to help address institutional racism. The jubilance of the #StonerBowl at the Meadowlands taunts the more than 600,000 families in New York whose lives have been shattered by racist, unlawful, and expensive marijuana arrests.
Because when the big game is over, no matter what NFL team wins, young Black and Latino men still lose.
Kassandra Frederique is a New York policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.