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Why Legalizing Pot Could Help Minority Kids

The Children's Alliance comes out in favor of Washington State's initiative to legalize pot—in order to protect kids from racial bias.

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The Children's Alliance is in it for the kids.
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By May Wilkerson

09/12/12

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Would legalizing pot ultimately help—or harm—children? That's the question being raised in Washington as prominent advocacy groups take sides on the state's Initiative 502, which seeks to legalize recreational marijuana. Seattle-based advocacy group Children's Alliance has now voted to come out in favor, due to its belief that racial bias in the enforcement of marijuana laws is damaging to children in minority households. "The status quo is not working for children, particularly children of color," says the group's director Jon Gould. "Public policy ought to move us further toward racial equity and justice, and Initiative 502 is one step forward to that." Although marijuana is used at similar rates by whites and blacks in the US, black people are three times as likely to be arrested, charged and convicted of pot-related crimes, with about 90% of these charges for possession. Children "end up paying a terrible price for the disproportionate enforcement," says Gould; in addition to losing family members to prison, parents' criminal records can impact their ability to get jobs, public housing or federal student aid.

On the other side of the argument are those who believe that more young people will use marijuana if the initiative—which would allow people over 21 to purchase up to an ounce of marijuana at state-licensed "pot stores"—is passed. In a statement opposing I-502, the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention notes that marijuana was the top reason for kids in Washington to enter drug treatment, and also linked to poorer performance in school. A spokesman for the group, Derek Franklin, claims the current rates—about 26% of the state's high-school students using pot in the previous 30 days—could double under I-502. "It's really a bad trade-off to experiment with legalizing an addictive substance when we see the problems it will cause," he says.

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