Elon Musk has questioned why people are still behind bars for selling weed now that it’s legal in a number of US states.
The SpaceX CEO caught the attention of his Twitter followers this morning, June 6, with a cryptic tweet suggesting he was about to share some sensitive and controversial revelations.
As Black Lives Matter protests continue across the globe, many of Musk’s followers speculated he’d be commenting on racism when he wrote: ‘This will probably get me into trouble, but I feel I have to say it.’
His tweet ended there, and he left his followers waiting for 10 minutes before revealing the second part of his statement, in which he pointed out that although selling weed went from being a major felony to an ‘essential business’ in many states, there are still people in prison for dealing the drug.
Marijuana is legal for both medical and recreational use in a number of US states, including California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Illinois and Michigan, while in others it is only legal for medical uses.
Some states, such as Nebraska and North Carolina, have decriminalised the drug but not legalised it, meaning criminal charges are not applied. In a few states it remains completely illegal.
Musk backed up his argument by pointing out a number of weed stores remained open throughout state lockdowns, suggesting they, like supermarkets and pharmacies, were essential businesses.
Though weed is now legal in many states, a number of people who were found guilty of possessing, selling or manufacturing it before laws changed remain in prison.
Musk argued this ‘doesn’t make sense’ and ‘isn’t right’, prompting many of his followers to agree with him – though some admitted they were disappointed with the follow-up to his first intriguing post.
Weed smokers in states where the drug is legalised or decriminalised can still be arrested for having it if they possess more than the authorised limit, and as marijuana remains illegal on a federal level US law enforcement agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, can make arrests for marijuana offences.
Opinions over the use of weed remain divided, even in states where it is legal, as became evident when Musk himself came under fire for smoking it during an interview with Joe Rogan in 2018.
Though the interview took place in California, where Musk was well within his rights to smoke, his actions made headlines and appeared to cause Tesla stock prices to plummet.
Though Musk didn’t make reference to issues of racism in his tweet, it should be noted that non-white people are disproportionately affected when it comes to incarceration for weed-related offences.
An analysis by American Civil Liberties Union found that although black and white people consume marijuana at roughly the same rates, black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.
In 2018, more than 600,000 people in the United States were charged for possessing marijuana, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, as cited by Insider. Despite the fact black and Latino people only make up 31% of the population, they accounted for nearly half of all weed arrests.
Now that weed is legal, business owners are benefitting greatly from its sales, but racism within the industry is still evident, as 80-90% of it is run by white people. Just as black and Latino people are more likely to get in trouble for selling and having weed, they are also struggling to benefit from it.
As Musk points out, a number of people remain behind bars for actions that are now legal, and statistics show a large proportion of those will be non-white people. These incarceration rates contribute to systemic racism as they make it more difficult for black people to find decent jobs.
Musk probably won’t get in trouble for sharing his thoughts about weed, though it would be interesting to know whether he shared his thoughts off the back of the ongoing discussions of systemic racism.
If those still behind bars were able to have their former crimes expunged, it may go someway into combating the institutional challenges faced by those most affected.
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American Civil Liberties Union