International Cannabis Business Conference

Behind the Green Curtain: Racial Disparities in Drug Reform

Blacks make up just 5% of the workforce in drug-law reform organizations.

Back in November, Dr. Carl Hart charged marijuana-reform groups with being apathetic about "pot arrest racism" and pointed out that "their rank and file to their advisory boards consists almost exclusively of white, privileged and devoted marijuana smokers.

"It helped me understand why racial equality is not a central priority for them," Hart wrote in The Nation. "Most of these individuals would like to light up without fear of personal legal consequences - a self-interested goal that could make it difficult to empathize with those who are actually vulnerable to racially motivated marijuana law enforcement."

Hart is certainly right that the reform groups are predominately comprised of white staffers and board members. A CelebStoner survey of seven major organizations - NORML, MPP, DPA, ASA, SSDP, NCIA and MAPS - proves his point. Out of a total of 336 staff and board members, only 23 are black, and 9 each are Latino and Asian; 112 are women.

The Drug Policy Alliance (Hart sits on their board) has the best record of diversity with three black board members, seven black honorary board members and five black staffers. More than half of their staff of 67 people are female.

The other groups literally pale by comparison to the DPA, with percentages from 88 to 100 of white board members and staffers. Several organizations have no minority representation at all.

Here's the breakdown:

NORML Board: 19; 16 white, 1 black, 1 Latino, 1 Asian; 16 male, 3 female
NORML Advisory Board: 18; 17 white, 1 Asian; 13 male, 5 female
NORML Staff: 7; 7 white; 4 male, 3 female
Total = 44; 40 white, (91%) 1 black (2%); 1 Latino (2%), 2 Asian (5%); 36 male (82%, 8 female (18%)

MPP Foundation Board: 11; 10 white, 1 Latino; 9 male, 2 female
MPP Advisory Board: 41; 36 white, 1 black, 2 Latino, 2 Asian; 37 male, 4 female
MPP Staff: 31; 27 white, 3 black, 1 Asian; 18 male, 13 female
Total = 83; 73 white (88%), 4 black (5%), 3 Latino (3.5%), 3 Asian (3.5%); 64 male (77%), 19 female (23%)

DPA Board: 18; 15 white, 3 black; 13 male, 5 female
DPA Honorary Board: 31; 22 white, 7 black, 1 Latino, 1 Asian; 26 male, 5 female
DPA Staff: 67; 57 white, 5 black, 4 Latino, 1 Asian; 32 male, 35 female
Total = 116; 94 white (81%), 15 black (13%, 5 Latino (4%), 2 Asian (2%); 71 male (61%), 45 female (39%)

ASA Board: 9; 6 male, 3 female
ASA Foundation Board: 7; 6 white, 1 Asian; 4 male, 3 female
ASA Staff: 12; 10 white, 2 black; 7 male, 5 female
Total = 28; 25 white (89%), 2 blacks (7%), 1 Asian (4%); 17 male (61%), 11 female (39%)

SSDP Board: 14; 12 white, 1 black, 1 Asian; 10 male, 4 female
SSDP Staff: 3; 100% white; 1 male, 2 female
Total = 17; 15 white (88%), 1 black (6%), 1 Asian (6%); 11 male (65%), 6 female (35%)

NCIA Board: 22; 100% white; 19 male, 3 female
NCIA Staff: 5; 100% white; 2 male, 3 female
Total = 27; 100% white; 21 male (78%), 6 female (22%)

MAPS Board: 4; 100% white and male
MAPS Staff: 15; 100% white, 6 male, 9 female
Total = 19; 100% white; 10 male (53%), 9 female (47%)

Totals

Boards: 194 = 169 white (85%), 13 black (7%), 5 Latino (5%), 7 Asian (3%); 152 male (78%), 42 female (22%)
Staff: 140 = 124 white (89%), 10 black (7%), 4 Latino (3%), 2 Asian (1%); 70 male (50%), 70 female (50%)
Total: 334 = 293 white (88%), 23 black (7%), 9 Latino (2.5%), 9 Asian (2.5%); 222 male (67%), 112 female (33%)

DPA: 116 =  94 white (81%), 15 black (13%), 5 Latino (4%), 2 Asian (2%); 71 male (61%), 45 female (39%)
The Rest: 218 = 199 white (91%); 8 black (4%), 4 Latino (2%), 7 Asian (3%); 151 male (70%), 67 female (30%)

Note: These numbers are from the organizations' websites. Keith Stroup reminds CelebStoner that NORML also has staffers who work for chapters. They are not included in this survey.

All seven groups have white executive directors: Allen St. Pierre (NORML), Rob Kampia (MPP), Ethan Nadelmann (DPA), Steph Sherer (ASA), Betty Aldworth (SSDP), Rick Doblin (MAPS) and Steve DeAngelo (NCIA). Two of the groups are headed by women.

Mason Tvert, MPP's director of communication, responded to Hart with this letter to the editor. It reads, in part:

"I’m disappointed by Carl L. Hart’s assertion that organizations like the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and NORML are somehow dismissive of the racial injustice inherent in marijuana prohibition. Just because an advocacy organization does not adhere strictly to discussing one aspect of the issue does not mean it is dismissive. After all, there are many good reasons to repeal marijuana prohibition… So, will MPP drop everything to focus 100% of its efforts on highlighting the racial injustice of marijuana prohibition? No, we will not. Will we incorporate that subject into the broader discussion about the need to end marijuana prohibition? Yes, we will."

Tvert did not reply to the charge of white exclusivity among board and staff members in drug-law reform groups.

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.