Legalization Without Justice is Half Baked

April 20, 2018

A gavel with marijuana

We know, we know, you were expecting something totally fun from Ben & Jerry’s this 4/20. Most years, we’re keen to deliver just that — like when we launched the Brrr-ito or the Chill-aco with full stoner fanfare. 

This time around, we wanted to look more critically at how stoner culture impacts Americans — all Americans. And here’s the big problem: Almost everybody looking to cash in on the booming pot business (the industry made about $10 billion last year) is white. And almost everybody getting arrested for using pot is Black. 

Harsh Realities

For white folks, celebrating cannabis culture is fun and relatively safe — after all, even in states that have not legalized recreational marijuana, law enforcement often turns a blind eye to whites’ recreational use. Earlier this month, our co-founders (Ben and Jerry) gave a speech about how their lives would have been different had they not grown up white and how they were let off with no charges when the police found pot on them. But for people of color, it’s a different story. 

It’s interesting because, in many ways, things are looking up for users and growers of marijuana. Of course, thanks to the Controlled Substances Act, possessing, buying, or selling pot is still a federal crime, but 39 states have legalized it anyway. The pot business is huge. Even John Boehner, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, wants in on it

But all that success is masking some serious systemic racism. Boehner, who once was “unalterably opposed” to legalization, may have changed his mind (did we mention that $10 billion?), but Fate Vincent Winslow, a homeless Black man, is serving a life sentence after trying to help an undercover officer buy some weed. He was hoping to make a $5 profit on the deal.


There were more than 8 million pot arrests between 2001 and 2010. That’s one every 37 seconds! As you might expect, arrests have fallen since states began legalizing the drug (although, in 2016, more people were still arrested for marijuana than murder, rape, assault, and other violent crimes combined), but that decline has altered the fact that more Black people are being arrested than white people.

Take a look at a state like Alaska. Alaska legalized marijuana in 2014; afterward, arrests plummeted. Arrests for whites were down by 99%, for Blacks by 93%. Great news! But… blacks were still being arrested 10 times more often than whites. 

It’s the same story all across the country, from Washington, DC, to Colorado, even though whites and Blacks use marijuana at similar rates. That’s racist and it has to end.

Rolling Up Our Sleeves

So, what can we do about it? Today, we ask you to join with us and call on Congress to expunge prior marijuana convictions and provide pardons/amnesty to anyone whose only crime was smoking a joint. Many cities and states have already begun working on this—it’s time for the federal government (sorry, Attorney General Sessions, but you’re outnumbered) to be part of the solution. 

Next year, let’s make sure that 4/20 is a fun day for every American.