USA TODAY: Drug laws have historically been racist. Marijuana activists are helping minority dealers go legal


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Fourth-generation Oakland native Tucky Blunt grew up around weed. His grandmother used it. So did his parents and his friends.

Blunt (yes, that’s his real last name) started selling to friends in the neighborhood when he was 16. He was usually careful, buying in bulk from a trusted supplier and selling to customers who’d call him to meet up.

After nearly a decade of illegal sales, it was $80 worth of pot that got him in trouble. He was found with a handful of baggies stashed in his pants when police officers came for him, tipped off by someone Blunt thought was a friend.

“We were out there trying to make money to help support our families at a time when people didn’t have a lot money. We didn’t think we were hurting anyone,” said Blunt, now 39. “I liked weed. I knew people who liked weed. Why not facilitate them getting good weed? That’s how I looked at it.”

His arrest in 2004 and his conviction left Blunt with a 10-year felony probation, allowing police to stop and search him anytime, for any reason. Meanwhile, all around Oakland, young black men like him were getting arrested while most of the white guys who were selling weed were left alone.

“It affected everybody in my circle because it was only targeted to us. I knew white people that was selling weed that never went to jail,” Blunt said. “The war on drugs was just about putting as many of us in jail in possible. It tore up a lot of families.”

The war on drugs has for decades disproportionately devastated minority communities by punishing people like Blunt and creating a cycle of poverty, incarceration and limited employment options, legal and social justice experts say.

Now, lawmakers and legalization advocates across the country are demanding not just cannabis legalization but remedies to address decades of demonstrably racist policing, from laws that automatically expunge criminal records for marijuana dealing and possession to policies that would give minority communities assistance in building cannabis businesses.

The same year as Blunt’s arrest, Oakland’s voters ordered police officers to make marijuana enforcement their lowest priority, below even jaywalking. But a decade later, the problem was laid bare: Officers were still arresting black men for marijuana crimes at rates staggeringly higher than for whites.

According to the city’s own statistics, 77 percent of the marijuana arrests in Oakland in 2015 were of African-Americans. Whites represented just 4 percent of those arrests, even though the city’s population is about 30 percent white and 30 percent black.

Similar data have been reported throughout the U.S. While marijuana legalization has reduced the overall number of marijuana arrests, people of color are still being targeted by police.

Even in states with largely white populations, black people using or selling marijuana still face high arrest rates.

In Colorado, which in 2012 became the first state to legalize marijuana, the total number of marijuana arrests decreased by 52 percent between 2012 and 2017, from 12,709 to 6,153, according to state statistics. But at the same time, the marijuana arrest rate for African-Americans – 233 per 100,000 –  was nearly double that of whites in 2017, and that’s in a state that’s 84 percent white.