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Editor’s Letter – 9/19/18

The Nixon White House [. . .] had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

That’s Nixon White House domestic affairs advisor and Watergate co-conspirator, John Ehrlichman, explaining the origins of the War on Drugs—a racist boondoggle that has been dutifully pursued by every presidential administration since 1968.

Ehrlichman’s admission is disturbing, but not surprising. U.S. drug policy has always been about policing minorities. Nixon’s man just said the quiet part loud.  

Cannabis laws originated in this country as a reaction to Mexican “immigration” in the American southwest. (The foreign-sounding marijuana was a term promoted in order to peg the flowering plant as not-white.)  Today, people of color are far more likely to serve time in Oklahoma than their Anglo counterparts, and a disproportionate number of those sentences are for nonviolent drug charges.

SQ788, which legalized medical cannabis in Oklahoma, is a major victory for champions of common sense drug policy—but there’s nothing to celebrate when it comes to unequal application of the law. Too many people are locked up on charges that have nothing to do with making our communities safer and everything to do with preserving the racial and class-based inequalities baked into our justice system.

How can we go about our lives, blazing dank medical nugs while people suffer in our cash-strapped jails and prisons?

Legalization isn’t enough. We must commute the sentences of every incarcerated nonviolent drug offender. Let’s free our neighbors, reunite them with their families and communities, then use the savings to fund our schools, pay our teachers, and expand opportunity for everyone through robust public investment in healthcare, substance abuse treatment, and jobs programs. It’s more than smart policy—it’s our only hope for survival.  

This issue of The Tulsa Voice features interviews with local weed dealers about their feelings on SQ788. I was drawn to it for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it honors our commitment to bring you voices you won’t find anywhere else. You’ll also find an urgent piece about sentencing disparities across three Oklahoma counties; a punk band who dresses up like dogs; and other great, weird stuff—but I’m over my word count, so just read it. Enjoy! Love you.

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