Image via Garden City Telegram
Kansas Representative Steve Alford showed his true colors last weekend, and they weren’t pretty. At a town hall meeting on Saturday, Rep. Alford told constituents that he opposed cannabis legalization because he believes African Americans are “genetically” predisposed to be drug users — a statement that is both incredibly racist and objectively false.
According to the Garden City Telegram, which has since released a video of the incident, Alford was responding to a question from a local politician about boosting state revenue with taxes from legal cannabis, when the Republican legislator began citing the debunked “gateway” theory, before eventually graduating to a slew of arguments hinged on prohibition-era anti-black propaganda.
“Basically any way you say it, marijuana is an entry drug into the higher drugs,” Alford said. “What you really need to do is go back in the ’30s, when they outlawed all types of drugs in Kansas (and) across the United States.
“What was the reason why they did that? 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.”
Of course, Alford’s statements have absolutely no truth to them, and instead represent yet another example cannabis prohibition’s racist roots.
In the real world, black Americans use cannabis significantly less than white Americans. As the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham points out, the most recent National Institute of Drug Abuse statistics found that 52% of white people over 12 reported using cannabis, 8 percentage points higher than the 46% rate reported by African Americans.
After the town hall, Alford was asked to clarify his statement, and, instead of apologizing or trying to cover his tracks, offered even more racist banter to try and justify his previous comment.
“There are certain groups of people, their genetics, the way their makeup is, the chemicals will affect them differently,” Alford said. “That’s what I should have said was drugs affect people differently instead of being more specific.”
By bringing up the idea of a “genetic” predisposal not once but twice, Alford harkens back to the long-disproved concept of eugenics, an intrinsically racist pseudoscience with direct correlations to modern-day white supremacy.
As soon as video of the racist comments went public, lawmakers and state officials from across Kansas lined up to denounce Alford’s views.
“It is hard to believe that in 2018, anyone would support the discredited and racist policies of the Jim Crow era,” said Carl Brewer, the former mayor of Wichita and current Democratic nominee for Kansas Governor, to the Topeka Capital-Journal. “No matter one’s feelings on medical marijuana and marijuana legalization, we can all agree that views like those of Kansas Rep. Alford have no place in our Statehouse, in our state or in our country.”
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Those sentiments were reiterated by Alford’s legislative co-workers.
“I think that is outrageous,” said State Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau. “For a sitting state representative to say that, I just can’t believe it. You can’t put everybody into one category. He should be more of a statesman and get facts.”
“Unfounded stereotypes have been the basis of racist and gender discrimination from inception of our country,” State Senator David Haley added. “Unfounded statements that refer to race are an indictment of small minds.”
After the avalanche of backlash, Alford finally released an apology for his actions.
“I was wrong, I regret my comments and I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I have hurt,” Alford said in a statement.
Still, through all the chiding and wrist slapping, no legislator has directly called for Alford’s resignation, and the Republican representative has shown no indication that he plans to step down.
Alford is up for re-election in 2018.
Update: Rep. Alford has resigned from his leadership posts in the Kansas legislature, but not from his seat in office.