Injustice continues in Dixie, Mississippi strikes down voter-supported marijuana initiative

Injustice continues in Dixie, Mississippi strikes down voter-supported marijuana initiative

A lawsuit initiated by Madison, Mississippi Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler has led to the Mississippi Supreme Court throwing out the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, 65. The initiative passed in all counties in the November 2020 election.

Before the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned 65, the Mississippi Court of Appeals upheld the life sentence of Allen Russel 38. Russel, a Black man, was convicted of a marijuana possession charge in 2019 after a jury found him guilty of being in possession of slightly more than one ounce of marijuana.

Madison, Mississippi, in Madison County, has the sixth-highest death for overdoses in Mississippi. 

People don’t overdose on hemp. 

Why are officials attacking the medical marijuana initiative? Is this about morality, the law, or something else? 

Of course, it is about something else.

In 2018, Mississippi providers wrote 76.8 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons, compared to the average U.S. rate of 51.4 prescriptions. It has been in the top ten of in providing opioid prescriptions since the data has been taken in 2006.

Clearly drugs for medicinal issues are fine in plenty of cases. 

“Short ball politics and money schemes may lead some to think legalizing marijuana in Mississippi would hurt certain local municipalities. Cities and counties don’t make money off locking up their teens addicted to pills. They don’t penalize nor incarcerate them. They quietly bury them. The truth is, legal marijuana would help Madison. It would supplant dependencies on opioids with something safer, like weed.”

—Shawn Jackson, Warren County, Mississippi Supervisor

Frighteningly ironic that in many places across the nation, the treatment for addiction of low-income white opioid users is probably funded in part by Black people being incarcerated for marijuana. 

“White populations are almost 35 times as likely to have a buprenorphine-related (used to treat heroin addiction) visit than [B]lack Americans,” says Dr. Pooja Lagisetty, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School.

NPR, Opioid Addiction Drug Going Mostly To Whites, Even As Black Death Rate Rises

The Mississippi state government provides counties $29.74 per inmate per day for housing costs. County prisons can also put inmates to work. Employers can pay this guaranteed stream of workers low exploitative wages if they receive any wages at all. These workers are prohibited from unionizing or going on strike. Furthermore, Mississippi charges inmates for living expenses while in prison. Like the debtors’ prisons of old or the new credit cards, some cannot ever get free.  

And in 2021, in the Blackest state in the United States, Black people continue to be arrested and incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates than white Mississippians.

Mississippi has an incarceration rate of 1,039 per 100,000 people. That number includes children. Only Oklahoma and Louisiana imprison more people. 

Mississippi has an incarceration rate of 1,039 per 100,000 people. That number includes children.

Studies have shown that Black people who use marijuana are more likely to be charged with a crime and more likely to receive a longer sentence than a white person who uses an opioid.

Even our vocabulary for drugs pathologizes Black people. Heroin is an opioid, but the media is more likely to use the medical term when discussing white drug use as not to stigmatize white people who use drugs.  

The term “marijuana” was popularized by Henry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Anslinger chose a Spanish slang word to construct an association between hemp and the Latinx and African American communities. The traditional Anglo-American terms— hemp and cannabis were too familiar, too useful, too midwestern, and too friendly.  

“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”  

Henry J Anslinger, first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, led drug policy in America from 1930-1960

This tradition of associating the African American community with the “dangers of drugs” to justify harsh repression of the community continues today, even after the LaGuardia Committee showed that the harm of hemp was negligible.

“Blacks [people] are convicted significantly fewer times than [w]hites (8.43 vs 11.29 times), but they had significantly more sentences resulting in incarceration than [w]hites (9.09 vs. 6.15) and significantly longer last sentences than [w]hites (1.74 vs. .71 years).”

Comparing Black and White Drug Offenders: Implications for Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice and Reentry Policy and Programming

And chances are if you’re white drug user, you are not getting arrested unless you’re homeless and in the middle of committing another crime not related to drugs.

Black people are 2.2 times (95 percent OR: 1.07–4.55) more likely than white people to get a possession charge, and Black people are 8.24 times more likely than white people to have a sales charge even after adjusting for other sociodemographic factors (95 percent OR: 2.73–24.90).

Middle-class and employed Black people are getting trapped in the prison system owing to marijuana. 

It is no accident that this is happening. 

Mississippi was one of the first places to implement the Black Codes after the abolishment of enslavement to arrest and re-enslave Black people; it quickly inspired similar laws in South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia.

Black codes prevented Black people from owning businesses, practicing skilled trades, working for more than one employer, and looking at white people in the eye. The punishment could be death by lynching, but more often, it was re-enslavement through the prison system.

In 1883, 10 percent of Alabama’s total revenue was derived from renting prisoners (convict leasing) by 1898, nearly 73 percent of Alabama’s total revenue came from renting prisoners.

Immediately after the Black community won Civil Rights Movement gains, the War on Drugs propaganda started (because the Confederacy continued to need a way to put Black people in jail for free labor, since the Black codes and Jim Crow were now illegal). 

Richard Nixon popularized the War on Drugs in 1971 during a televised speech on June 18.

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and [B]lack people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or [B]lack, but by getting the public to associate the hippies — and [B]lacks [with drugs,] and then criminalizing [drugs], we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” — John Ehrlichman, to Dan Baum for Harper’s Magazine in 1994, about President Richard Nixon’s war on drugs, declared in 1971.

We could arrest [Black] leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

— John Ehrlichman,  counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs under President Richard Nixon on the “war on drugs”

And today you still have this propaganda masquerading as fact. 

Black marijuana users are criminalized, and white heroin users are given sympathy. I’m going to assert that they ALL should be given sympathy. Black people who smoke marijuana shouldn’t be going to prison in 2021.

Mississippi Today reports that for minor crimes, you can literally “legally” enslave a man for years. Over 150 private individuals and businesses have employed inmates in Mississippi, from the Greenwood Country Club to a restaurant at the Jackson Zoo to a Moss Point funeral home and cemetery.

And a Black person serving you in Mississippi has a sort of traditional aesthetic coolness, a return to the Lost Cause of Plantation Genteel Civility and Nobility. Well, at least for the modern tattoed, fallen planter oligarch, white supremacist leviathan. 

While prisoners aren’t supposed to do domestic work, many of those in the carceral system are trapped in an antebellum existence. Owing to the habitual practice of using prisoners and welfare recipients as domestics, the practice was outlawed, but it still happens. Inmates have been given the duty of sweeping yards at private residencies, cutting their grass, and even help serve their family Christmas dinners. You can almost hear the modern gentry singing singing their vile theme song, “Dixie” while being served Mint Juleps.

There’s buckwheat cakes and Injun batter,
Makes you fat or a little fatter
Look away! Look away! Look away!
Dixie Land

Using marijuana or opioids shouldn’t be a criminal act. Criminalizing and brutalizing Black people for eating a marijuana brownie while taking a kind and therapeutic approach to white heroin users is unfair and cruel.  

Mississippi’s attempt to self perpetuate their institutional racism through modern chattel slavery is an embarrassment to the United States, and their Black residents continuing to be held hostage by the whim of klan-inspired monsters is behavior we can no longer accept.

Madison’s challenge to 65 cites [section 273(3)] stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.

“Mississippi Voters Want To Impeach Justices Who Overturned Medical Marijuana,” Marijuana Moment

The ridiculous challenge to 65 is a throw back to the 1890 Mississippi Plan, the explicit motivation of the plan was to take political power out of African Americans’ hands and uplift white supremacy.

Why was section 273(3) not an issue with the passage of Initiative 27, which requires people to show government-issued photo identification before voting? 

We all know why.

Dixie is dead and it needs to stay dead. Justice needs to rip the white robes off the court houses of Mississippi.


Teka Lo, Public Intellectuals

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