For the last several years, Mick Dumke and I have been writing about the “grass gap“—i.e., even though everyone smokes reefer, far more blacks get busted for illegal possession of pot than whites or other racial groups.
In fact, 78 percent of those arrested in Chicago are black, while 17 percent are hispanic and 5 percent are white, according to numbers we compiled a few years ago.
Now there’s a new gap. Everyone wants to legalize weed. But apparently, white voters want to legalize it more than black voters.
I make this claim based on the results of last month’s advisory referendum on legalization. Citywide, it passed with more than 73 percent of the vote—a resounding victory for common sense.
Not that it will hasten the legalization anytime soon. Remember, it’s only an advisory referendum, and Mayor Rahm and Governor Rauner oppose legalization.
Generally, the highest levels of support were in upper-income north-side wards, like the First, 32nd, and 47th, where upward of 87 percent of voters favored legalization.
In contrast, the three south-side wards that are almost all black had less support: 69 percent in the Sixth Ward; 67.3 percent in the Eighth and 66 percent in the 21st.
I’d say that Latino voters may even be more conservative on this issue, though it’s hard to say for certain because they are more integrated with white voters.
For instance, the ward with the lowest level of support is the 14th, where the referendum won “only” about 59 percent of voters. That ward is heavily Latino, but it’s ruled by alderman Ed Burke.
So I’m not sure if the no votes came from Latinos or the remaining white voters—Burke’s base, if you will.
In any event, the black/white results seem counterintuitive. The biggest victims in our failed war on drugs have clearly been black people, especially men. If you don’t believe me, read The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander’s classic on the subject.
Again, support for legalization is still strong in black wards. Though if Mayor Rahm continues his resistance to legalization, you can bet he’ll say he’s doing it for black residents—like he said he was looking out for black students by closing their schools.
Well, you know I can get a little obsessive about things. (Don’t worry, I plan to get through this post without mentioning the A-word.)
In this case, everywhere I go I ask people about the latest grass gap.
Most responses are along the lines of—black voters tend to be more conservative and church-based than upscale white voters.
For my money, the most on-target response came from Delmarie Cobb, a political strategist who’s lived on the south side her whole life.
According to Cobb, the results in black wards reflect a pragmatic understanding of how the world really works.
“It’s not that black voters are against legalization,” says Cobb. “It’s that so many young black guys in our communities can’t get jobs because they can’t pass the drug tests. That’s why we see them standing on the corner.”
In other words, is the reluctance to support ending the war on drugs an acknowledgment that this nonbinding referendum is not about to end it anytime soon?
“Exactly,” says Cobb. “As a progressive, I understand the reason for legalizing marijuana. And I voted yes. But a lot of black voters have very real pragmatic concerns—like they’re still drug-testing my children.”
It reminds me of the time I got a panicky call from a friend. Her son had smoked a joint (or two) the night before he had to take a drug test to get a job as a school bus aide. She wanted to know if I knew how to pass a drug test—man, the stuff people think I know.
Sad to say, he didn’t get the job, ’cause he flunked the test. The good news is that he’s gone on to bigger and better things and is doing just fine—reefer smoking and all.
Point is, there are moms and dads all over the south and west sides looking out for their kids in a world they know isn’t fair and isn’t about to get fair anytime soon.
My guess is upscale north-siders probably aren’t so worried about the negative consequences if their kid gets busted.
By the way, these issues will be on the table when the aforementioned Mr. Dumke and I convene another First Tuesday—April 3 at the Hideout.
Sixth Ward alderman Rod Sawyer, who’s chair of the council’s Black Caucus, and state senator Dan Biss (yes, that Dan Biss) will be our guests.
Among other things, we’ll be talking about bridging a different gap—the one between black and white progressives.
The show starts at 6:30 PM. The Hideout’s at 1354 W. Wabansia. Let’s hope we can find a completely legal path toward enlightenment.