OPINION | Weed disparity between Tulane, New Orleans communities

Olivia Barnes, Contributing Columnist

Weed culture at Tulane differs from the New Orleans community due to racial disparities. (Gabe Darley)

In July 2021, Louisiana updated their cannabis possession laws to reflect a more progressive attitude towards marijuana. Rather than a $300 fine and 15 days of imprisonment, a person with 14 grams or less will only face a misdemeanor charge and a $100 fine. This new law is a step towards the decriminalization of marijuana; however, it does not negate a long history of racial disparities and marijuana arrests in Louisiana.

A 2020 study from the American Civil Liberties Union determined that Black Louisianians were 3.4 times more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though usage rates are comparable between both races.

In a poll given to a variety of Tulane University undergraduate students, 93.1% of respondents have consumed marijuana during their time at Tulane. Over 58% of student responses admitted to smoking marijuana weekly, if not more often. 

At Tulane, over 60% of the enrolled student population is white and less than 9% of that population is Black. Is enjoying an easygoing and stress-free environment of Tulane stoner culture considered white privilege? 

When asked how marijuana culture has impacted their time at Tulane, students responded by noting that “It has tremendously helped [them] succeed at Tulane” and “It’s made [them] closer with friends here.” Amongst all the responses garnered by this poll, the overwhelming majority viewed the weed culture at Tulane to be positive and stress-free. 

A healthy relationship with and view of marijuana is very important in a time when decriminalization and legalization of marijuana are becoming more popular nationwide. Cannabis does, in fact, have many health benefits including relief of chronic pain, treatment for anxiety and regulation and prevention of diabetes. 

Tulane students enjoy these benefits in a safe and accepting environment without fear of penalization. Considering that a majority of Tulane students are white, and a majority of the New Orleans population is Black, are the attitudes towards marijuana consumption within the Tulane bubble so positive because students do not have to suffer repercussions from marijuana use like Black New Orleans residents do? 

Over the past twelve years, 80% of people arrested for marijuana possession have been Black men. Considering that both Black and white Americans use marijuana at a very similar rate, and only about 32% of Louisianians are Black, there is clear and definite racial disparity when it comes to the punishments for possession of marijuana. 

However, as students at Tulane where a majority of the population is white and a majority of the population has smoked weed on campus in a stress-free, relaxing, positive environment, it is important to acknowledge these discrepancies in order to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for the citizens of New Orleans.

The solution to this problem is not to punish Tulane students for possession of marijuana or to shame white students into thinking that they are the reason for the systematic racism in America, but rather to call out higher officials for contributing to an unfair and unequal environment. 

By acknowledging the difference between the attitudes towards Tulane students’ view of marijuana and the disparities that Black Louisianians face on a daily basis for the same drug, we can continue to move towards a more justifiable justice system.