The founder of the popular Christian-themed children’s show VeggieTales recently gave a thorough lecture on the role of the war on drugs in the racial injustices fueling protests across the country.
Phil Vischer, whose voice many could recognize as Bob the Tomato from the animated biblical series, hosted a 17-minute “Holy Post” video that examines the history of policies in the U.S. that have marginalized and disenfranchised black Americans. It includes an analysis of how communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by anti-drug laws that criminalize substance use, despite the fact that white people use drugs at comparable rates.
While numerous advocates and policymakers have been stressing the need to end drug criminalization as a means to promote racial equity, it’s notable coming from a figure most commonly associated with a show that generally puts biblical stories in a context palatable for a younger audience.
In the video, Vischer makes clear that Republicans and Democrats alike have enacted discriminatory drug war policies over a period of decades that have directly contributed to racial injustices being protested today.
Watch Vischer discuss the racial justice implications of the drug war below:
Here’s an excerpt from the drug policy-related conversation:
“Then came the war on drugs. Inner city blacks were extremely vulnerable economically. The overwhelming majority of African Americans in 1970 lacked college degrees and had grown up in fully segregated schools. In the second half of the 20th century, factories and manufacturing jobs move to the suburbs. Black workers struggled to follow the jobs. They couldn’t live in many of the new suburban developments. And as late as 1970, only 28 percent of black fathers had access to a car. When a white man in Cicero, Illinois, just outside Chicago, sublet an apartment to a black family, the white community rioted, setting fire to the apartment building and smashing windows until the National Guard had to intervene.
“The result of all of this: In 1970, 70 percent of African-American men had good blue collar jobs. By 1987, only 28 percent did. As unemployment skyrocketed in African American communities, so did drug use. As drug use increased, so did crime—a dynamic today that we see playing out in white rural communities hit hard by unemployment and opioid addiction. Throughout the 1970s, white America became increasingly concerned by images of black violence shown on TV and in magazines. Drugs were the problem. Drug dealers and drug users were the enemy.
“So we decided to treat the drug epidemic not as a health crisis, but as a crisis of criminality. And we militarized our response. During the Reagan-Bush years from 1981 to 1991, how we invested money in anti-drug allocation completely changed. The anti-drug budget for the Department of Defense went from $33 million in 1981 to more than $1 billion in 1991. The Drug Enforcement [Administration’s] budget to fight criminality and drug use went from $86 million to more than a billion dollars.
“Then we came to the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which carried mandatory minimum sentences much harsher for the distribution of crack cocaine, which was associated with blacks, than powder cocaine, which was associated with whites. Mandated evictions from public housing for any tenant who permitted a drug-related criminal activity to occur on or near premises. It eliminated many government benefits, including student loans for anyone convicted of a drug crime. The 1988 revision set a five-year minimum sentence for possessing any amount of crack cocaine, even if there was no intent to distribute. Previously, it had been a one-year maximum sentence for possessing any amount of any drug without the intent to distribute.
“Now it might seem like we’re picking on Republicans, so now it’s time to pick on some Democrats. During the Clinton presidency, the funding for public housing was cut by $17 billion. At the same time, the funding for prisons increased by $19 billion. The number of Americans imprisoned for drug crimes exploded. In 1980, there were 41,000 Americans in prison for drug crimes. Today, there are more than a half million—more than the entire 1980 prison population. Most arrests are for possession. In 2005, 80 percent of the arrests were for possessing drugs, not selling drugs.
“In a bizarre twist, we also militarized our police forces. Between 1997 and 1999, the Pentagon handled 3.4 million orders for military equipment for more than 11,000 police agencies, including 253 aircraft, including Blackhawk and Huey helicopters, 7800 M-16 rifles, 181 grenade launchers—grenade launchers for the police—8,000 bulletproof helmets, 1,200 night vision goggles. We also changed policing tactics. A no-knock entry is when a SWAT team literally breaks down your door or smashes in through the windows like in E.T., when the cops come flying in from every direction looking for ET. So back to Minneapolis. In 1986, Minneapolis SWAT teams performed no-knock entries 35 times. Ten years later in 1996. they performed no-knock entries 700 times. That’s two every day.
“There were financial incentives for arresting more drug users. Federal grants to local police departments were tied to the number of drug arrests. Research suggests the huge surge in arrests from increased drug enforcement was due more to budget incentives than to actual increases in drug use. So what was the result? An explosion of our prison population. In 25 years, the U.S. prison population went from 350,000 to over 2.3 million. The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. We imprison a higher percentage of our black population than South Africa ever did during apartheid. Data shows that the increased prison population was driven primarily by changes in sentencing policy.
“There was no visible connection between higher incarceration rates and higher violent crime rates. If you are a drug felon, you are barred from public housing, you are ineligible for food stamps, you’re forced to check the box on unemployment applications marking yourself as a convicted felon. A criminal record has been shown to reduce the likelihood of getting a call back or job offer by as much as 50 percent. The negative impact of a criminal record for an African-American job applicant is twice as large as for a white applicant. In 2006, one-in-106 white men was behind bars. For black men, it was one-in-14. For black men between the age of 20 and 35—the age where families are built—it’s one-in-nine. Overall, African Americans and white Americans use drugs at roughly the same rate, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost six times that of whites.
“It may be true that there isn’t explicit racism in our legal system anymore, but it doesn’t mean justice is blind.”
Photo courtesy of YouTube/VeggieTales Official.
Twitter Partners With Feds On Campaign Flagging ‘Marijuana’ Searches While Giving ‘Alcohol’ A Pass
Twitter is partnering with a federal drug agency to promote substance misuse treatment resources when users of the social media platform search for “marijuana” or certain other substance-related keywords—but no such health warning appears with results for alcohol-connected terms.
In collaboration with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Twitter this week began adding a notification above relevant tweets on select drug terms that says, “If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, you are not alone.” It directs users to SAMHSA’s help line and website.
Drug policy reform advocates have pointed out that this messaging perpetuates stereotypes about drug use, indicating that any interest in these substances signals that users may have a problem warranting treatment. But it’s also the case that there’s an abundance of reasons that people might enter “marijuana” into a search beyond looking for ways to score some of the product for use, including wanting to follow relevant news on public policy debates about its legalization. And besides, the vast majority of people who consume cannabis are not addicted to or dependent on it and aren’t likely to appreciate the suggestion that they may need professional help.
While promoting substance misuse treatment isn’t necessarily problematic in and of itself, advocates are pushing back about the fact that Twitter chose to peg these notices to cannabis and other currently illegal drugs in particular while it allows alcohol brands to be promoted on its platform. Here’s what happens when you search for “vodka,” for example:
Similarly, no warning is displayed alongside searches for “alcohol,” “beer” or “wine.”
For context, according to the World Health Organization, more than three million people die from harmful use of alcohol each year. Meanwhile, even the Drug Enforcement Administration has acknowledged that “no deaths from overdose of marijuana have been reported.”
“It is not surprising that SAMHSA would be behind stigmatizing content like this, but it is surprising that a platform like Twitter would allow them to co-opt entire search terms, regardless of a person’s reason for searching for them,” Matt Sutton, director of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “It goes back to the same false dichotomy that people who use drugs are struggling and need help verses the reality that most people can use drugs non-problematically, while a small portion of the population tends to struggle with substance use disorder.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to Twitter about the discrepancy when it comes to alcohol-related searches, but a representative declined the opportunity to comment for this story.
“If Twitter is going to add this feature for marijuana then they should absolutely do the same for alcohol, which is a more dangerous substance,” Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.
Interestingly, while the SAMHSA treatment resources are flagged for Twitter users who search for “marijuana,” “cocaine” and “heroin,” searches for “cannabis,” “LSD,” “MDMA,” “psilocybin,” “pills,” “adderrall” and other drug-related terms come with no such invitation to consider getting help—further highlighting the arbitrary nature of the new feature on the social media platform.
This social media policy change comes as Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is promoting mandatory drug rehabilitation treatment for people charged with possession crimes.
While the former vice president seems to view the policy as a progressive alternative to incarceration, many drug reform advocates feel mandatory treatment reinforces misconceptions about substance misuse, and they point out that the efficacy of forced rehabilitation programs are scientifically questionable.
“Anybody who gets convicted of a drug crime—not one that is in terms of massive selling, but consumption—they shouldn’t go to prison. They should go to mandatory rehabilitation,” he said last week. “Instead of building more prisons, as I’ve been proposing for some time, we build rehabilitation centers.”
Drone Drops Hundreds Of Free Bags Of Marijuana In Israel
Marijuana fell from the sky in Israel on Thursday, with a drone dropping hundreds of small bags of cannabis in the streets of Tel Aviv.
The stunt attracted dozens of people, including some brazen enough to collect the free products from the middle of a busy road as drivers honked at them. A group that goes by the name “Green Drone” apparently made the aerial delivery.
Prior to the drop off, the group posted on the encrypted app Telegram: “It’s time my dear brothers. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the green drone, handing out free cannabis from the sky. Enjoy my beloved brothers, this is your pilot brother, making sure we all get some free love.”
הזייה בכיכר רבין: רחפן הטיל מהשמיים עשרות שקיות של מריחואנה. מי שעומד מאחורי המיזם זאת קבוצה שמכנה את עצמה "הרחפן הירוק". בגלל שלא חישבו נכון את הרוח, רוב החומר התפזר על הכביש באבן גבירול. עוברי אורח נהנו מהשלל@ynetalerts pic.twitter.com/xeziJsH950
— איתי בלומנטל Itay Blumental (@ItayBlumental) September 3, 2020
This isn’t a one-off instance of marijuana philanthropy, either. Green Drone plans to continue the “rain of cannabis” project, delivering one kilogram of marijuana broken out into two-gram baggies every week.
But the first drop-off didn’t go without a snag. According to The Jerusalem Post, two people suspected of operating the drone were arrested.
While Israel is an active player in the marijuana research scene, the plant remains illegal, except for under limited medical circumstances. A bill to decriminalize cannabis and another to legalize it for adult use were introduced this year, and the legislature voted in favor of advancing both for a preliminary reading.
Marijuana certainly isn’t new to the region. An ancient biblical tribe in Israel likely used marijuana to produce hallucinogenic effects as part of cultic rituals, according to a recent study that identified cannabis resin on an alter in a shrine built around 750 BCE.
Photo courtesy of Jean P Mouffe.
President Carter Talks About His Son Smoking Marijuana At The White House With Willie Nelson
In a new documentary being released this month, Former President Jimmy Carter (D) discusses the time his son smoked marijuana at the White House with musician Willie Nelson during his administration.
In a trailer released last week, Carter is shown talking about his relationship with the music industry—including his friendship with artists like Nelson and Bob Dylan. At one point, he mentions how Nelson, a cannabis culture icon, disclosed in a biography that he smoked marijuana during a trip to the White House.
“When Willie Nelson wrote his autobiography, he confessed that he smoked pot in the White House and he says that his companion was one of the servants of the White House,” Carter said, as CelebStoner first reported. “It actually was one of my sons.”
Watch the trailer for “Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President” below:
In his 1988 book, Nelson described “sitting on the roof of the White House in Washington, DC, late at night with a beer in one hand and a fat Austin Torpedo in the other. ”
“My companion on the roof was pointing out to me the sights and layout of how the streets run in Washington,” he wrote, being coy about who he was with. “I let the weed cover me with a pleasing cloud… I guess the roof of the White House is the safest place to smoke dope.”
It was later revealed that the 1978 cannabis session on top of the executive mansion involved first son Chip Carter.
“Getting stoned on the roof of the White House, you can’t help but turn inward,” Nelson wrote in a subsequent 2015 book. “Certain philosophical questions come to mind, like… How the fuck did I get here?”
During his time in office, Carter spoke in favor of decriminalizing marijuana possession and replacing criminal penalties with civil fines. But he was not able to get that policy change enacted.
“Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself,” he said in 1977, adding that marijuana sales should still be strictly criminalized.
Under his administration, the Compassionate Investigational New Drug was established, providing select patients suffering from certain conditions with access to marijuana joints produced with federal authorization.
In 2011, Carter wrote an op-ed for The New York Times that criticized the drug war and stated that U.S. drug policies “are more punitive and counterproductive than in other democracies, and have brought about an explosion in prison populations.”
He also said the following year that he was “in favor” of state efforts to legalize and regulate cannabis. He told a CNN interviewer at the time that “we can watch and see what happens in the state of Washington for instance, around Seattle, and let the American government and let the American people see does it cause a serious problem or not.”
But in 2013, he reversed that position, saying he opposed legalization.
“I do not favor legalization. We must do everything we can to discourage marijuana use, as we do now with tobacco and excessive drinking,” Carter said, according to the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches To Marijuana. “We have to prevent making marijuana smoking from becoming attractive to young people, which is, I’m sure, what the producers of marijuana…are going to try and do.”
“I hope that Colorado and Washington, as you authorize the use of marijuana, will set up very strict experiments to ascertain how we can avoid the use of marijuana,” he added. “There should be no advertising for marijuana in any circumstances and no driving under the influence. We need to avoid the use of marijuana, particularly among young people.”
The new documentary, “Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President,” will roll out with limited theatrical showing beginning on September 9, followed by a physical release a month later. It will then air on CNN on January 3, 2021.
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.