Charlotte Faye Greenberg

Mayor Walter Washington of Washington, DC, recently became the first political executive in the country to veto a marijuana decriminalization bill, when he shot down the marijuana decriminalization plan for the nation’s capital after it had been passed by the Washington, DC City Council. Mayor Washington, who is black, vetoed the proposal after he received a petition signed by 100 black ministers urging him to reject the decriminalization measure.

Marijuana reform is an issue that is vitally important to the black community. Although a relatively small percentage of the whites who are busted for marijuana ever stand trial, over three quarters of the blacks who are busted have to stand trial, and the vast majority of these people are ultimately convicted and sentenced to prison.

These shocking statistics indicate that it is the black community that suffers the harshest consequences of this country’s marijuana laws.

Mayor Washington’s veto has been bitterly criticized by Claudia Booker, District of Columbia NORML Coordinator and a black activist attorney. Ms. Booker has said that the Mayor’s action means that this year another 2500 otherwise law-abiding District residents will again be unfairly and unnecessarily arrested for minor marijuana offenses.

“Those individuals will then likely find their educational and career opportunities severely limited,” Ms. Booker charges. “Since the overwhelming majority of marijuana arrests and prosecutions concern blacks, one might have expected Mayor Washington would be more sensitive to the need to ameliorate the harsh consequences of needlessly treating so many of our citizens as criminals. Instead, many of our citizens are left with the burden of trying to compete in an already competitive world with an unnecessary criminal record, for conduct which is no longer deemed criminal in ten other states.”

It is time for all of us to recognize that marijuana reform is a civil rights and human rights issue. It’s disgraceful that President Carter appears to be concerned about the human rights of citizens abroad while allowing this country’s laws to be used as a tool of repression and racism against its own citizens. The marijuana laws must be changed, and maybe other black leaders in this country besides Claudia Booker will become leaders of the reform movement rather than its most powerful opponents.

Charlotte Faye Greenberg
Editor and Publisher

March 1978