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Friday, August 23, 2019

Leaglizing weed: good policy, one problematic argument

I support legalizing marijuana, and I'm glad my state is about to do so come January. One argument I hear in favor of legalization bothers me.

It's the argument about racial equity and goes like this. Drug laws are used as a tool to harass and incarcerate primarily persons of color. By legalizing or decriminalizing drugs, we take away that tool to harass such persons.

(That's the generic argument. Any given attempt at legalization may do more to advance racial equity. My state, for example, has created an expungement program for certain prior marijuana convictions and has some provisions for ensuring new weed dispensaries are minority owned. Those more expansive attempts work (or don't) on their own terms and aren't what I'm addressing in this blog post.)

The racial equity argument isn't false, in my opinion. I believe it's true, although I'm a little skeptical about how much legalizing or decriminalizing drugs will actually work. The police are pretty clever and have strong incentives to find ways to harass the least advantaged among us, and I suspect decriminalizing won't be much of an impediment if we don't fix other things.

My main problem, though, is that it's a misplaced argument. While I make no admissions about what I currently do or will do in the future, I really want weed to be legal. One of the many reasons I want legalization is the racial equity argument.

And yet....if I'm honest, it's mostly a argument of convenience. I'd support legalization anyway. And more important, there are many, many potential reforms that could help bring about racial equity. I'd support many of them, such as, for example, reinvigorating the voting rights act. But my support for them is more abstract and detached. I think many f them would be good things to get done, but I'm not doing much to bring them about, even if "doing much" is only occasionally writing blog posts about the topic. I'm not even keeping myself up to date on the current efforts to implement such reforms. For weed legalization, on the other hand, I paid close attention to the legalization path in the legislature and seriously considered writing my state senator (something I've never done before) to thank him for voting for it.

I suppose I'm suggesting that a good deal of the racial equity argument is what's known online as "concern trolling," or expressing concern for someone when it's convenient to do so and then abandoning that concern when it's no longer convenient. There seems something....not wrong....but inconsiderate about using the racial equity argument. And that's what bothers me about it.

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