Celebrating last week the General Assembly's passage of legislation to legalize marijuana and put state government into the drug business, Governor Lamont condemned the "war on drugs" that was proclaimed 50 years ago by President Richard Nixon. The "war on cannabis," the governor added, was "at its core a war on people in Black and brown communities."
While there is plenty not to miss about Nixon, this was a cheap shot. Yes, because of their poverty, minority groups and the cities got the worst of the drug war, but millions of people of all races everywhere were caught up in it – and still are. Indeed, the drug war was no more aimed at members of minority groups than the prosecution of burglary, robbery, and murder is, though, again largely because of poverty, racial disproportions persist there, too.
Despite these disproportions the governor has not proposed repealing those other criminal statutes. More telling, nor does he propose decriminalizing the other drugs Connecticut heavily prosecutes – cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, and such. There are plenty of racial disproportions in those prosecutions, too, and if, as the governor suggests, Nixon was a racist on account of the "war on drugs," the governor himself may have a lot to answer for. So may his friend Joe Biden, since most of the country's elected officials went along with that war until lately.
Though the governor boasts of a declining prison population and a few days ago boasted of closing the prison in Somers, racial disproportions remain the most striking aspect of a visit to any prison in Connecticut. Those disproportions don't impugn the laws under which the sentences were imposed, for most crime, like poverty, is racially disproportionate.
If the governor's demagoguery is to be believed, the many state legislators who voted against the marijuana bill – Democrats as well as Republicans – must be racists like Nixon instead of honestly concerned about legal marijuana's consequences for public health.
While its advocates might like to think so, legalizing marijuana will not solve the drug problem in Connecticut or even alleviate it. The new law itself acknowledges that it is likely to worsen the drug problem, since the legislation reserves a big portion of marijuana tax revenue for drug treatment. Of course with marijuana legal, more people will partake of it and be lethargized, psychologically addicted, and pushed closer to harder drugs.
Drugs are just a difficult problem. For while few will deny the damage done by drug criminalization, the decisive argument in favor of decriminalizing and medicalizing the problem is crime. If drugs are decriminalized, their burden will fall more on drug users themselves and less on people they burglarize, rob, or murder for drug money.
If the governor and legislators didn't imagine a lot of tax revenue and political patronage flowing from the marijuana legislation, and if the public wasn't already largely indifferent to the drug, enforcement against it already having nearly stopped, the legislation would not have passed. But the drug problem endures and the governor and legislators won't deserve any congratulations until they confront its greater dangers and ugliness.
Besides, why are the governor and Democratic legislators so sure that reducing the prison population is good?
In their cocoon at the state Capitol they don't seem to have noticed the explosion of violent crime throughout the state, especially in the cities. Much of this may be related to the virus epidemic, but even so the public is entitled to protection against it.
Officials in New Haven acknowledge that many recent murders and other serious crimes there involve men recently paroled, and the city has started programs to try to keep them out of trouble.
But this isn't easy with men who are psychologically damaged, without education and job skills, and eager to take revenge on the world for their lack of a proper upbringing.
Many serious crimes are being committed in Connecticut by people who already have been convicted many times but keep being released.
Society is disintegrating, especially in the cities, and when, as in Connecticut, government can't even acknowledge it, much less remedy it, prisons are needed more, not less.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.