Race arguments against pot laws apply to guns, too

AP Photo/Hans Pennink

For a while, some on the left have been pushing to legalize marijuana, arguing that such laws disproportionately impact black people. As such, pot laws should be repealed at the federal level because they’re racist.

Now, regardless of how you feel about marijuana prohibition in general, I find this to generally be a bad argument. I mean, if more of an ethnic group break a particular law–particularly a law that doesn’t mention race in any way, shape, or form–then the issue isn’t the law itself.

But a lot of people feel differently, especially about things like pot laws. However, if they want to play that game, then they need to back off on gun control, too.

Sheila Jackson Lee, a black Democrat who has represented downtown Houston in Congress since 1995, thinks repealing marijuana prohibition is “an important racial justice measure.” Twice in the last three years, she has sponsored or co-sponsored bills that would have removed cannabis from the list of federally proscribed substances, eliminating a ban first imposed in 1937. “Thousands of men and women have suffered needlessly from the federal criminalization of marijuana,” Jackson Lee said in 2020, “particularly in communities of color.”

Like the war on weed, gun control is historically rooted in racism and disproportionately harms African Americans. But on the latter issue, Jackson Lee’s agenda is decidedly different.

In 2021, Jackson Lee introduced a bill that would create an elaborate nationwide system to license gun owners, register firearms, and punish violators with the sort of harsh mandatory minimum penalties that she passionately condemns when they are imposed on drug offenders. Jackson Lee frames her proposed restrictions as sensible public safety measures—just as pot prohibitionists have always done.

Jackson Lee embodies a common contradiction. Progressive politicians nowadays overwhelmingly oppose pot prohibition and criticize the war on drugs, in no small part because of its bigoted origins and racially skewed costs. Yet they overwhelmingly favor tighter restrictions on guns, even though such policies have a strikingly similar history and contemporary impact.

See, racist origins of laws only matter when Democrats don’t actually like the law in question. If they do, they’re more than fine ignoring that history.

The issue with pot laws isn’t the racist origins, but because they favor legalizing marijuana and will use any “argument” they can muster. I find this a bad argument, but some will support it out of fear of being called racist.

Which is the goal.

However, if people like Jackson Lee are going to make this argument, it’s imperative to hold them accountable for their hypocrisy, because that’s what this is.

If mandatory minimums are racist, then a new mandatory minimum–one that is likely to jam up more young black men and white men–would be just as racist. Especially in light of gun control’s racist history.

No one should expect her to back off, of course, because it’s her bill. She’ll have plenty to say about how she isn’t racist and can’t be racist, I’m sure, but it’s not about changing her mind. It’s about all those other lawmakers who would have to vote for this for it to become law.

Make damn sure they know that the arguments their listening to now will be used against them if they support something like this and I suspect even some of the usual suspects would balk at backing a bill like this.