Former U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek
Joe Burbank-Pool/Getty Images

The "war on drugs"  — especially marijuana — and a possible FDA ban on menthol cigarettes are racial justice issues that should concern African-Americans and members of other over-policed communities, panelists at the National Action Network's annual convention said Saturday.

Art Way of the Colorado Drug Policy Alliance called policing of nonviolent drug offenses "areas where a lot of the foul stuff that happened with slavery and Jim Crow continues to exist."

"We don't need to lock up more folks of color especially for some nonviolent, ridiculous offenses," said John L. Dixon, III, Chief of Police, Petersburg Virginia and president of National Black Law Enforcement Executives – a group that calls itself "The conscience of law enforcement."

The panel discussion, titled "Up in Smoke: Banning of Menthol, Legalization of Marijuana, and Criminalization of African-Americans" was moderated by former U.S. representative Kendrick Meek, who highlighted the FDA 's consideration of a ban on the menthol cigarettes that have traditionally been marketed to the African-American community.

Dixon, who warned of the creation of a black market for menthol cigarettes, said, " From a police perspective, this will do a whole lot of things to hurt the system rather than help the system. He warned of "all thee resources chasing folks for cigarettes."

There would be cascading affects for those arrested, Meek predicted, affecting the right to vote, employability, and access to higher education, especially among "people of color and those who are financially challenged."

For related reasons, Way argued, the legalization of marijuana is a racial justice issue, "In my community, African-Americans are three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana, although we don't use drugs or sell drugs at higher rates than white people."

He said crime in his home state, Colorado, has not increased since marijuana was legalized, and freed-up funds will be used for a public health, prevention, education approach to drug use that's nearly impossible if "if all resources are spent on punishment and putting people into a box."