What I Risk When Walking Down The Street With A Pocket Full Of Weed Is Nothing Compared To What She Risks

If you’ve read my blogs you know that I’m a serious pot smoker. I have weed stashed in freezers all over the world (thanks Mom.) Everywhere I travel regularly I’ve got a friend who keeps my cache for me.

Almost true story;

Yesterday I apologized to one of my dearest friends, I’ll call her M, a black woman living in America because the last time I saw her in Boston when we were hanging out in my hotel room waiting for my taxi to the airport, I asked her if she would take my “leftovers” back to her place for safe keeping.

I thought nothing of it until recently. Then I began doing research into the grossly racist causes and rates of arrests, prosecutions, incarcerations and sentences for black women in America’s prisons.

That fact is, if I walk down the street with $100 worth of weed in my bag I’m probably not going to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted or incarcerated.

If M does the same she is twice as likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and her sentence would be significantly longer than mine. She could lose custody of her kid, lose her apartment, her job and her health.

True Story

  • There is no evidence that black people use marijuana more often than whites do.
  • There is no evidence that people of color sell illegal drugs more often than whites do.
  • African Americans comprise only 14% of regular drug users BUT are 37% of those arrested for drug offenses.
  • The rate of stops, frisks and arrests for white people is approximately 500 per 10,000.
  • The rates of stops, frisks and arrests for black people is approximately 1,400 per 10,000.
  • The African-American population is 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana and:
    12 times more likely to be imprisoned for a marijuana felony.
    3 times more likely to be imprisoned for a possession arrest. 
  • The imprisonment rate for black women is 2 to 10 times (depending on sources and State in which offense was committed) higher than that for white women.
  • African-American women are 7 times more likely to be incarcerated over their lifetime than white women.
  • African-American children are 7.5 times more likely than white children to have an imprisoned parent.
  • If African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, incarceration would decline by nearly 40%.
Arrest Rates for Marijuana Possession by Race.png

Even more devastating are the consequences for African-American women once released.  

  • The negative impact of a criminal record is twice as large for African American job applicants.
  • The callback or job offer rate is nearly 50% less for African Americans.
  • The Higher Education Act substantially limits the ability of drug offenders to access to financial aid for continuing education.
  • In many states Drug offenders are ineligible for  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP - food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), federally assisted housing, postsecondary education assistance, and some federal contracts and licenses.
  • Which means No healthcare. No welfare. No daycare. No place to live. No continuing education.
  • Some states have laws barring offenders from receiving professional licenses/certificates/qualifications which means they are unable to become lawyers, hairdressers, CPAs, doctors, nurses, teachers etc., and thus they can’t earn a living wage.
  • As primary breadwinners the loss of income often sends the family she’s been forced to leave into poverty.
  • Other states have a 2 eligibility requirement clause for obtaining accreditation:
     1. Applicant has a “Good moral character” (Decided by who? Based on What? WTF?)
     2. Applicant has no prior convictions.

  • African-American women are more often than not heads of households, mothers, and caregivers prior to becoming offenders.

  • When African-American mothers are incarcerated their children are often placed into state care.
    - The average sentence for possession of marijuana for African American women is 44 months
    Children who stay in foster care over the 24 month limit (varies from state to state) are at risk of being taken away from their mothers permanently.

As much as I attempt to understand and recognize my bias and privilege as a cis white American woman I still make mistakes more often than I should.
But apologies, though often appreciated are not the cure for the social diseases racism and sexism.

What black American women want and need are real allies. Other human beings willing to discomfort themselves and their communities by making the voice of reason heard. We white women have a moral imperative to use our votes, voices and platforms to correct the myriad of inequities, indignities, and injustices suffered by black women everywhere.

I love you M and I am embarrassed that I have once again been blinded by my privilege. I promise to increase my vigilance regarding race, intersectionality and injustice personally, professionally and publically.  


Article by VERVE Founder, Anna Quick Palmer