Having not experienced racial disparity personally when it comes to cannabis laws, or at all for that matter, it is easy to not see much of a problem. But right here lies our first misconception ‘having not experienced’ is false. It only denotes a lack of awareness for the struggles at the other end of the spectrum, and the stark contrast in treatment.
Discrimination was not a non existent entity, but it was sometimes subtle and sometimes not, typically expressed in completely unrelated ways. I can remember an early boss telling me to “do a white mans job”, there was no confusion about what he meant.
During my late teens a near year spent homeless in Toronto there were no such divisions or distinctions made among the homeless youth. We were all outcasts regardless of skin color, united to survive. Never considering the path from misery would be much different for some of us, impossible for others.
It was a few years later before I gave some real thought to the reality the scales are not always balanced equally. My viewpoint and experience with police has always been founded in the belief they are meant to serve and protect. The good guys, unless you were a bad guy. A perception that colors so many situations if you allow it to ‘oh that guy in the back of the police car must be a bad guy’. Completely unaware that for some demographics the opposite viewpoint is held and the person seen in the back of a police car is the victim of an oppressor.
It was around 1989 I found myself having to appear in court, after a couple of Peel regional police undercover idiots made the bust of the century catching me outside a nightclub rolling a joint. I normally wouldn’t disparage police officers acting in the line of duty, but these 2 assholes were threatening and abusive, making a huge deal of the fact I was merely being sent home with only an appearance ticket. Over 2 grams of weed. Was REALLY good shit too!
I took court seriously while also not expecting the court to truly take my case too seriously, hell the hometown OPP officers I knew growing up would have ground it into the dirt and sent ya home, at worst! I had one tell me once at 1:30am “Go smoke your hash somewhere else” when someone complained about 2 of us behind the GM dealership where it was well lit.
I show up the 2nd time after the 1st ‘get a lawyer’ remand, again without a lawyer, properly attired, suit jacket etc. Wanting to get this over with as quick as possible, and knowing squat about how to navigate the legal stuff, I asked to speak to the Crown Attorney. I introduced myself and asked him if there was any way I could just plead guilty or anything to get this done and over with. He asked me my name again then told me to just come up when my name was called. When it was I stood up, the crown said a few things I didn’t really understand, judge asked me to ‘tell me about yourself’, looked at the crown said “recommendation accepted, dismissed”. I sat back down processing what it meant, they let me off.
The next case was a young guy I chatted with outside. He was there for a gram of hash. The crown listed a couple of prior arrests for possession and then started talking about probation and suspended sentences! I left confused and a little disillusioned, not at all understanding the severity in which they displayed.
Now some 30 years later as we celebrate being such a progressive society by legalizing cannabis, the same old patterns are still prevalent in the system, and hardly limited to this one issue.
Every person in North America has been affected by discrimination, racial or otherwise. For so many the effect is not negative, so it is just the way things are. Blind to what life on the other end of the scale is like is it easy to simply believe that’s just how things are. Easier still to be dismissive in the belief that you are not a racist so it is not your problem, and people bring this on themselves.
It is all our problem when equality is a myth.
The true measure of a society is how it looks after the poor, weak and most vulnerable. In how intrinsic fairness is established in it’s most entrusted legislation and it’s administration.
In this regard we are failing horribly.