Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson made one of the smartest public policy decisions in recent memory last year. Thompson announced that he would decline to prosecute most cases in which people are found possessing small amounts of marijuana. Regardless of how many view the legalization of marijuana, the decision made sense because it had nothing to do with legalization. By addressing this subject, Thompson took action on one of the most pressing issues facing the country. In addition to young people facing criminal records and arrests, massively overcrowded and inefficient prisons have become sadly ubiquitous within the United States during an era of the misguided War on Drugs.
The issue has reached a particularly desperate level in recent years. For instance, New York City has seen misdemeanor arrests skyrocket as a result of the post-cocaine epidemic “broken windows” policy that has been in action for the last few decades. Subsequently, Thompson’s decision to ease the tension put on the system by dismissing charges against first-time offenders in possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana is practical for both the city and the state of New York.
Unfortunately, the State University of New York does not seem to share these views. Geneseo was recently ranked 30th on a list made by HuffPost College of 50 schools with the most drug arrests per capita––the majority of arrests being marijuana offenses. Seven other SUNY schools were also named on the list.
Talking about marijuana in the context of higher education offers yet another example of the inequity in prosecution. Arrest data has consistently revealed that minority men are disproportionately targeted, even though both white and minority communities use marijuana at comparable rates, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. This trend of inequity persists at colleges across the country.
Out of the 50 schools on the list, only one––University of California, Berkeley––is consistently ranked among the top 30 elite universities in the nation. Moreover, Berkeley is a public institution within the state of California. According to these numbers, the nation is not actually interested in enforcing marijuana laws, but enforcing selective marijuana laws. In the end, it’s just another reason why you should’ve gone to Harvard University––one can graduate with a good name and a clean record while smoking as much weed as one likes.
This is only one of the myriad issues that points to the inequity of marijuana laws. Regardless of whether this is because of public policy failure or uneven policing distributions, marijuana laws are continuing to seriously hamstring specific sections of the population.
Geneseo should not take pride in this most recent ranking, as it certainly does not indicate any increased level of security. While the nation tries to explain the relationship between binge drinking and sexual assault that plagues its colleges, it must now also attempt to account for a focus on marijuana laws that do little to “protect” the people or further public safety.
This trend points to the now regrettably tired view of the War on Drugs––though one of the least dangerous drugs, marijuana is the easiest to smell and find. Thus, simple marijuana arrests are championed amongst lackluster results from the campaign to prevent the use of heroin and similar hard drugs.