OPINION: Minorities face much greater marijuana stigma


According to the American Civil Liberties Union, black people and white people in the United States use marijuana at a comparable rate, yet black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana. (Graphic by Pierce Grohosky)

Noah Alvarez

A family member once said to me, “If it’s all white, then it’s alright.”

The more I pay attention, the more I find this to be true, both regarding law enforcement and the public’s views of marijuana use.

Growing up in an ethnically diverse region of Southern California, I have met people of all races, ethnicities and walks of life who smoke cannabis — from Ivy League scholars to high school dropouts.

My first encounter of the added stigma that minorities who smoke marijuana face was on my high school football team.

During the offseason, one of my teammates (Player A) was caught lighting up a joint behind the handball courts at school. He is half-Latino and half-black.

Our head coach, who ran a very tight and disciplined program, learned of the news. Like we did for every player who was caught with drugs, ditching classes or anything else that diminished the football team’s image, we had a team vote whether to keep that player or kick him off the team.

Before each vote, our coach would lecture us and use the player who was being voted on as an example of what not to do. This time was no different and Player A was voted off the team.

Fast forward a couple months later and one of our starting defensive lineman who is white, Player B, was caught smoking pot in the school’s parking lot during lunch.

However, before we voted this time, our coach had a different angle to his lecture.

Instead of the usual shaming, he began by commenting on how unfortunate it was that Player B was misguided by a poor group of friends and that we as a team needed to look out for one another to prevent anything like this from happening again.

This took me by surprise, but Player B received more than half the votes and remained on the team — only to be kicked off the following year for the same offense.

The public views a black or Latino person who smokes pot as a delinquent, but someone who is white and smokes pot as a misguided individual.

Even some media outlets’ treatment of high-profile athletes who are caught smoking pot is skewed.

When Josh Gordon — a black NFL player — failed his drug tests, ESPN analysts shamed him. After Gordon served his suspensions, owners across the league vowed to stay away from him.

On the other hand, Gordon’s former teammate quarterback Johnny Manziel, who is white, has been arrested for possession of marijuana, among other charges, but is closer to a comeback than Gordon is. Manziel met with New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton this offseason, while Gordon has not been in contact with any team representatives.

Law enforcement may be the most prejudiced in regard to arresting people of color for use of marijuana.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, black and white people in the United States use marijuana at a comparable rate, yet black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than white people.

In the state of Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legal for people above the age of 21 since 2012, the arrest rate for white juveniles fell 9 percent in the first two years while the arrest rate for black and Latino juveniles rose 58 percent and 26 percent respectively, according the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

I wish it were not the case, but it seems evident that smoking marijuana without being judged or having a greater chance of being arrested is another form of white privilege.