Across the country, racial justice organizers and advocates are turning the tide of the failed, racially biased War on Drugs by changing laws to reduce mass incarceration. This is a growing, vibrant movement, primarily led by people of color and by those who have experienced incarceration first hand.
It’s time for the vast array of children’s advocacy groups to join this movement in a more visible and assertive way. It’s time for those who advocate for preschool expansions, for children’s health insurance and for public education to get with it. It’s time.
Mass incarceration is a kids’ issue.
Mass incarceration has hurt kids in a profound way. It has been a major driver of generational family poverty; it has caused kids to grow up without a parent; it is a source of shame, humiliation and stigma. It is a source of lasting trauma.
According to the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated:
An Education Week article summarized the impact:
"Studies show that parental incarceration can be more traumatic to students than even a parent’s death or divorce, and the damage it can cause to student’s education, health and social relationships puts them at higher risk of one day going to prison themselves."[ii]
As with mass incarceration, the African American community is bearing the brunt of this trauma. Yale University found that one-quarter of black children born in 1990 had a parent in jail or prison by the time the child was fourteen.
The War on Drugs has been a War on Black Children.
Latino families have also been disproportionately impacted and have experienced a collusion between the drug war and anti-immigrant deportation policies. Kids can be separated long term from a parent who is arrested on a minor drug charge and then deported.
In my experience, children’s advocacy groups are typically white-led, while the racial justice movement is led by people of color. This may explain why many children’s advocacy groups have yet to take a clear and consistent stand in support of ending mass incarceration. Those of us who are white, including myself, are distant from the problem.
It’s time for us to get behind and support those leading the way; it’s time to endorse the bills and the ballot measures and to put time and resources into educating the huge base of white children’s advocates about this issue.
One big step forward in the campaign to reduce mass incarceration is to decriminalize marijuana. Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow notes that arrests for marijuana possession account for nearly 80% of the increase in drug arrests in the 1990’s. [iii]
Thousands of kids have lost their parents to prison simply for marijuana possession. That has to stop.
A terrific documentary Invisible Bars has just been released that illustrates these issues. See the trailer here.
[ii] Sarah D. Sparks, “Parents’ Incarceration Takes Toll on Children, Studies Say,” Education Week (February 24, 2015).
[iii] The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, (New York: The New Press, 2012), 60.
The top response in the recent Marist poll of over 1,000 adults?
The dresser drawer!
The pollsters didn’t take this question a step further but if they had, I bet the most common drawer for stash placement would have been the underwear drawer.
What compels us to hide our secrets in our underwear drawer?
I always have. It’s a fascinating question….but let’s get back to the Marist poll.
Here are some other noteworthy findings:
Please note that this poll did not take into account marijuana use among young people under 18. The numbers above reflect only a part of the picture—marijuana use among adults. The poll, unfortunately, tells us nothing about youth.
What the poll does reveal is that marijuana is on a steady path to becoming “normalized.” Marijuana is way beyond “reefer madness.” It is quickly becoming a normal and commonplace aspect of American life.
The statistic that lifts this up most clearly concerns young adults. Of the total percentage of Americans who use marijuana, 52% are Millennials. It’s no surprise that younger adults consume marijuana more frequently than older adults. Also no surprise is that for marijuana users, marijuana is more socially acceptable and more likely to be viewed as harmless than among non-users. 83% of users believe that marijuana use is socially acceptable.
Looking to the future, we can see the trend. As Millennials and their kids become a larger and larger segment of the population, we will see wider acceptance of marijuana use.
Part of “normalization” is that a behavior cuts across society. For decades, cigarette use was “normalized;” all kinds of people smoked.
Similarly, by reviewing the poll’s demographic data, we can see that marijuana use is taking place fairly evenly across racial groups. Whites, African Americans and Latinos use marijuana at roughly the same rates. The data I could find lumped everyone else (Asians, Native Americans…) into an Other category, which is very unhelpful.
Of course, even use does not mean even or fair punishment. As I have written elsewhere, African Americans and Latinos have gone to jail in hugely disproportionate numbers for marijuana due to racial bias in our criminal justice system.
The biggest reason people gave for why they don’t use weed? Because it’s illegal. As legalization and decriminalization (which I support) spreads across the country, it seems likely that, under current conditions, the percentage of people who try marijuana will increase, use will go up, and because youth follow adults, consumption among young people will rise.
So this is all very good news for the marijuana industry.
Is it good news for the health of the American people? Outside of those who use marijuana for medical reasons, the answer is no. While a growing number of people believe that marijuana is harmless, it is not.
In conclusion here are the trends.
Marijuana normalization- UP
Marijuana use- UP
Adverse health impacts of marijuana use- UP