A Republican lawmaker blamed marijuana use by black people on “character makeup” and “genetics.”
Rarely is racism by a politician so explicit.
Asked about marijuana legalization over the weekend at a legislative coffee event, a Kansas lawmaker, Republican state Rep. Steve Alford, gave a shocking response: “What you really need to do is go back in the ’30s and when they outlawed all types of drugs in Kansas [and] across the United States. What was the reason why they did that? One of the reasons why — I hate to say it — it’s the African Americans, they were basically users and they basically responded the worst off those drugs just because their character makeup, their genetics, and that.”
Alford later apologized for the remarks after facing criticism, saying, “I was wrong, I regret my comments, and I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I have hurt.” But he also insisted, before his apology, that he’s not racist.
I have been covering drug policy since I was a student journalist in 2010. This is easily the most overtly racist comment I have seen a contemporary politician make on drug policy. It’s a politician saying, outright, that black people are genetically predisposed to an act that he considers negative. (Needless to say, it is absolutely untrue: Black and white people use marijuana and drugs in general at similar rates, and black and white people report similar rates of substance use disorder, according to federal surveys.)
Although this comment and its explicit racism are more obvious to us today, this kind of racism was in fact one of the ways that American policymakers and elites justified the war on drugs in the early 20th century.