Marijuana reform could ease tensions in Baltimore, lawmakers say

By Oscar Pascual |

Several members of Congress suggested on Wednesday what viewers of The Wire already know — that the boiling tensions between Baltimore residents and police are the direct result of the failed war on drugs.

At a press conference introducing a bill to give marijuana-related businesses access to banking, California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher advocated for a change to U.S. drug policies by bringing up the current civil unrest in Baltimore due to the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, reports the Huffington Post.

“Right now when you see all of this disturbance in our inner cities, a lot of that has to do with frustration that’s been a problem when police end up doing what — having to search people to see if they can find some joint in their pocket, a little piece of weed, in order to ruin their life and put them in jail,” said Rohrabacher. “That doesn’t happen a lot in Orange County, but I know it happens in the inner city.”

While some may argue that weed has nothing to do with the current situation in Baltimore, it has everything to do with ruining the lives of underprivileged minorities in Baltimore and nearly all socioeconomically depressed areas of the nation.

Marijuana arrests are down overall, yet one marijuana arrest still occurs every minute in the U.S., according to recent FBI crime data. Despite similar rates of marijuana use throughout races, studies show that blacks and Latinos are four times more likely to be arrested for pot than whites nationwide.

Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer pointed out the discriminatory nature of current drug policy.

“For lower-income minority young men, an arrest or incarceration can be really devastating,” he said. “If you’re a middle-class white kid, you probably wouldn’t have been arrested in the first place, and your parents can get you off. A young minority male is more likely to have this wreck their lives. Lose qualification for student loans; if they live in public housing, they may not be able to live with their family. And this compounds.”

Current tensions in Baltimore erupted after Gray suffered a spinal cord injury while in police custody and died after slipping into a coma. Gray’s arrest record shows several marijuana-related encounters with police.

Television writer and Baltimore resident David Simon created the critically lauded television series The Wire to portray the institutional problems of the drug war in his city. Simon agrees that the Freddie Gray situation is a direct result.

“I know I sound like a broken record, but we end the f—ing drug war,” Simon said in an interview with the Marshall Project. “The drug war gives everybody permission to do anything. It gives cops permission to stop anybody, to go in anyone’s pockets, to manufacture any lie when they get to district court …. The drug war gives everybody permission. And if it were draconian and we were fixing anything that would be one thing, but it’s draconian, and it’s a disaster.”

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons