Last Monday, Bill O’Reilly included a segment on marijuana criminalization in his Fox News show. When I tuned in to watch Stephen Gutwillig, Deputy Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, speak in support of marijuana legalization, I was struck by O’Reilly’s vitriolic response to marijuana policy reform. O’Reilly’s reaction to The New York Times’ recent call for marijuana legalization echoed the all-too-familiar tradition of engaging drug war politics in the larger battleground for racial justice.
O’Reilly dismissively remarked, “The left believes American law enforcement targets African-Americans for drug prohibition.”
The racial bias and cost of the drug war is most certainly not a myth of the “left” but a tragic and pressing reality: in New York City, for example, roughly 87 percent of marijuana arrests are among black and Latino individuals, despite the wealth of evidence that marijuana is used and sold at roughly equal rates across racial lines in our country. In fact, on the same day of O’Reilly’s segment, The New York Times published “ The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests,” reporting that black people are, on average, 3.7 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana offenses across the U.S.