Why Legalized Weed Is Good News for Young Black Men

Ending the war on drugs would mean a new day for young black men.

Javier Martinez at a marijuana rally in Civic Center Park in Denver, April 20, 2012
Javier Martinez at a marijuana rally in Civic Center Park in Denver, April 20, 2012 Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

One is that for this boy, negative interactions with often surly white cops are the main contact he ever has with the world outside his neighborhood. Hence, generations of young black men who feel like aliens in the only country they will ever know.

Second is that this same young black man will likely either be killed or spend a long time in prison. On release, he will have no job skills and quite likely will end up back behind bars. His kids, whom he barely knows, will grow up with a stressed-out single mom and wind up living lives like either hers or his.

The end of the war on drugs would undo a great deal of this. Black boys dealt a bad hand would get real jobs. Anyone who says they wouldn’t lacks faith in fundamental black strength and missed what happened when people said the same thing about black women during the welfare reform of 1996.  

Meanwhile, as soon as a generation of black boys grew up without a sense of the cops as the enemy, we would be in a new America indeed. Ask a black person why he or she thinks racism is still black people’s main problem in 2014—if this person does—and count the seconds before he or she mentions the cops. With no war on drugs, the cops would have no reason to storm around black neighborhoods, and black America could get on with things unmolested.

That, to me, is a powerful vision, and weed legalization is a step along the way. If that means a few more potheads not fully realizing themselves in the way that David Brooks would prefer, I think the world will keep spinning regardless.

Ruth Marcus says, “Our kids will not be better off with another legal mind-altering substance.” But whose “our kids” is she most concerned about?

John McWhorter is a contributing editor at The Root. He is an associate professor at Columbia University and the author of several books, including Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America and Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English.