Hey Mayor Emanuel: White people smoke reefer too | Bleader

Hey Mayor Emanuel: White people smoke reefer too


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with police Superintendent Garry McCarthy at his side, wants to lighten up on low-level drug offenders in exchange for a crackdown on those who violate gun laws.
  • Brian Jackson / Sun-Times Media
  • Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with police Superintendent Garry McCarthy at his side, wants to lighten up on low-level drug offenders in exchange for a crackdown on those who violate gun laws.
To follow the logic of Mayor Emanuel's latest proposal for reforming marijuana laws, you'd think that only black people smoke pot, and poor black people at that.

So let me be the one to tell you what you probably already know: white people dig reefer too!

In fact, the only thing about marijuana that's unique to black people is the getting arrested part.

That is, white people generally don't get busted for possessing small amounts of marijuana. At least, not at the same rate as black people.

This is the sad hypocrisy of our marijuana laws as exposed by yours truly and Mick Dumke more than three years ago.

That's right—three years have come and gone since Mick and I wrote "The Grass Gap," our treatise on the enforcement of marijuana laws in Chicago.

Sunrise, sunset, huh, Mick?

Thanks to that article and others like it—not to mention pressure from Toni Preckwinkle and other pols—Mayor Emanuel felt compelled to inch towards decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot.

As wimpy as that legislation was, I still think it was a small step toward legalization and for that I thank you, Mr. Mayor.

That's correct: I'm praising the mayor. As far as I'm concerned it was the high point of his administration. Ho, ho, ho.

The mayor's law—passed by the city council in 2012—gave police the option of ticketing offenders for possessing small amounts of marijuana, as opposed to hauling them off to jail.

That has not, however, stopped police from arresting people for possession. And, as Mick has reported, more often than not the people getting arrested are black.

So, really, not much has changed.

I'm almost to the point where I'd wish police would start arresting white people for possession. I mean, you could have hauled in a couple thousand at Lollapalooza alone.

The point is that if the white residents of, say, Ravenswood, where the mayor lives, got busted for possession at the same rate as their reefer-loving counterparts in Englewood, you'd see a groundswell of support for legalization.

Mayor Emanuel might even be leading the charge.

Actually, for all intents and purposes, marijuana is already sort of legal for white people in Chicago. So there's no impetus for north-side politicians to do anything about our reefer laws.

And that brings me back to the mayor's latest proposal, which he officially unveiled yesterday.

Basically, he's proposing that the state do what he already did in Chicago: give police the option of writing tickets for possessing small amounts.

But the mayor made it clear he only supports decriminalization if the General Assembly links it to a law requiring longer sentences for illegally possessing a gun.


Look, I know that gun carnage is out of control in this city. But one issue has absolutely nothing to do with the other.

It's almost as though the mayor's saying, "Before I agree to stop locking up black people for one thing, I want a promise to automatically lock them up for something else."

From a practical standpoint, the only thing the mayor accomplishes by linking reefer to guns is to all but guarantee that we won't reform our marijuana laws anytime soon.

That's because most black state legislators oppose mandatory-minimum sentencing laws on the grounds that we're already incarcerating too many black people, so we should think twice about automatically incarcerating more.

For better or worse, the gun proposal probably won't pass as long as Michael Madigan is the house speaker. He's not about to force the black members of his Democratic majority to accept it.

Mayor Emanuel must know this. If nothing else, he's a political animal.

So it looks like the mayor's cooked up a meaningless political stunt timed for next year's mayoral election.

It may win him the votes of some Logan Square hipsters. Meanwhile, the grass gap continues.