A Republican lawmaker has incurred the wrath of the African American community after he remarked that blacks were more affected by marijuana than others. Kansas State Representative Steve Alford spoke of black people's "character makeup" in this context.
His remarks were part of a speech made on 6 January at a legislative coffee session to discuss the importance of preventing the legalisation of marijuana in the state. While speaking to the all-white audience, he referenced a 1930s prohibition on drugs put in place by Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
At the time, Anslinger claimed that "reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men" and even a small amount of the substance would have a drastic effect on "degenerate Spanish-speaking residents".
"What was the reason why they did that?" Alford said on Saturday. "One of the reasons why, I hate to say it, was that the African Americans, they were basically users and they basically responded the worst off to those drugs just because of their character makeup, their genetics and that. And so basically what we're trying to do is we're trying to do a complete reverse with people not remembering what has happened in the past."
He later repeated his opinion to The Garden City Telegram, adding that groups of people with specific gene structures are affected differently by chemicals. "That's what I should have said was drugs affect people differently instead of being more specific," he told the newspaper.
His statements immediately triggered widespread criticism as being backward and racist. On 8 January, he made a formal apology but reiterated that one of the original reasons behind the criminalisation of drugs in the 1930s was its negative effects on society and more specifically "the damaging consequences on the African American community".
Other politicians expressed shock at Alford's opinions calling them outrageous and small-minded.
Unfounded stereotypes have been the basis of racist and gender discrimination from inception of our country," Sen David Haley, a Democrat from Kansas City said. "Unfounded statements that refer to race are an indictment of small minds."
"He is an idiot and that shows how oblivious Kansans are to selecting representatives to put someone like that in there to represent them," Darrell Pope, the president of the NAACP's chapter in Hutchinson, told The New York Times.
Kansas is one of the few states that are yet to legalise medical marijuana or any of its derivatives. While Alford's comments were seen feeding a sterotype at the least, a report by The Washington Post has found a half-truth in his words.
According to research conducted the the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), marijuana use does affect black people more in the sense that they are at a higher risk of getting arrested for possession. The 2013 report claims that while use of weed is almost the same between blacks and whites, the former group is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for it.