A Democratic U.S. Senate candidate from Louisiana is smoking a blunt in a new campaign ad calling out racial disparities in weed arrests.
Gary Chambers Jr., a Baton-Rouge based Democratic candidate and self-described social justice advocate, released the ad Tuesday, tweeting that he hoped it would destigmatize weed use and force “a new conversation that creates the pathway to legalize this beneficial drug.”
The ad opens with a close-up of Chambers lighting a massive blunt as a timer starts in the background. Sitting in a black armchair in a field wearing a blue suit, Chambers begins rattling off stats about weed arrests.
“Every 37 seconds, someone is arrested for possession of marijuana,” he says, noting that more than 7 million Americans have been arrested for weed crimes since 2010.
“Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana laws than white people. States waste $3.7 billion enforcing marijuana laws every year. Most of the people police are arresting aren't dealers, but rather people with small amounts of pot just like me,” he continues.
Chambers also called for the forgiveness of people who’ve been arrested because of “outdated ideology.” He is hoping to unseat Republican Sen. John Kennedy in the all-party primary in November.
The 37-second video has been viewed 4.3 million times on Twitter and was featured on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
William Snowden, director of the New Orleans office of the Vera Institute of Justice, told VICE News the ad was “on point.”
He said the legacy of the stigma around weed goes back to Harry Anslinger, the former commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics who perpetuated the idea that cannabis use made people of color violent.
“Gary Chambers in his ad is recognizing the stigma that exists around the use of cannabis,” Snowden said. “It's encouraging to see this evolution.”
On Twitter, the ad received widespread praise.
“Dang mad props to this brave man for his revolutionary ad for a United States Senate campaign. If I did this I’d lose my job for sure,” tweeted Dan Whitfield, Democratic Senate candidate for Arkansas. “It’s past time we federally decriminalize cannabis and nationally expunge cannabis convictions!”
Recreational weed is legal in 18 states and Washington, D.C., while 39 states allow weed for medical use. In Louisiana, having up to 14 grams of weed is now punishable with a $100 fine, not jail time, and flower for medical purposes is legal. But cannabis remains illegal at the federal level.
According to a 2020 report from the American Civil Liberties Union, weed arrests in Louisiana increased 18 percent from 2010 to 2018 and Black people were more than three times more likely to be arrested for weed than white people, despite the two groups having similar rates of consumption.
But Snowden said attitudes and policies in New Orleans are changing.
“Police officers are looking at different ways in which they should be spending their resources and time in terms of the things that they want to be focused on to provide public safety.”
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