Bill Maher Takes On the Racial Divide on Pot

Ben Nelms/Reuters

WHEN COMEDIAN Bill Maher talks about dope—using it, abusing it, legalizing it—most often he's only half joking. And recently he made a very serious point indeed. Legalizing marijuana has become "the next civil-rights issue," he said. Maher was riffing on a just-released report by the American Civil Liberties Union: "The War on Marijuana in Black and White." Between 2001 and 2010, police made 8 million marijuana arrests, and 90 percent were for simple possession. Blacks were picked up at almost four times the rate of whites, and in some areas at eight times the rate, even though usage is about the same on each side of the racial divide. The ACLU deplored the billions of dollars wasted on a failed and racially biased policy that sucks otherwise innocent people into the criminal-justice system, crowds the jails, and has not reduced marijuana use or availability. But Maher went a step further. And, again, he was only half joking. He called this pattern of arrests "a subtle way to suppress the black vote," because 48 states limit voting rights for convicted felons. "Only two states do not," said Maher: "Maine and Vermont, and Maine's black population consists of a bear."