Marvin Scott’s death in prison following his arrest for cannabis use is putting the spotlight on Texas, and on the fact that medical cannabis patients and Black people are unfairly targeted by the police in the United States.
Marvin Scott was arrested in March of this year over a misdemeanor possession amount of less than two ounces of cannabis. He was taken to the hospital for allegedly acting erratically, but was then taken to jail, where he died. Scott was 26 years old.
Following this incident, seven of the officers involved with his arrest have been fired due to their alleged involvement in his death. Marvin Scott suffered from schizophrenia and, according to his family, was experiencing an episode during his arrest. While no official cause of death has been released, Scott was restrained in a bed, pepper sprayed, and was forced to wear a “spit mask” during his time in prison. Some have speculated that the cause of death was suffocation, although this has not been confirmed by the authorities and experts working on this case.
“He was using [marijuana] to self-medicate after being two years diagnosed with schizophrenia,” Lee Merritt, his family’s lawyer, explained. “Here, in a largely white area [in Allen, Texas], [Marvin Scott] stood out. He wasn’t even given the benefit of the doubt as someone who needed to go to a medical facility.”
Marvin Scott, Racial Discrimination, and Cannabis Arrests
According to Merritt, a civil rights activist, racial profiling and discrimination played a part in the arrest. Black folks are 3.64 times more likely to be arrested than white people for cannabis, according to an American Civil Liberties Union study, though both groups use the substances equally. In the state of Texas specifically, Texas NORML reports that Black people are 2.6 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession.
“Nobody should be dying in a jail cell because they had plants on them,” said Texas NORML Executive Director Jax Finkel. “It reflects what we’ve seen a lot of across the country and in Texas.”
Texas NORML reports that Black people in the state make up almost 30 percent of all cannabis possession arrests, as of data collected in 2017. As the recent Black Lives Matter protests have revealed, these statistics remain consistent throughout the years and across the country.
“I don’t want to say that’ll make it a panacea and all of a sudden racial disparity will disappear because we know there’s more work to be done,” Finkel said. “Cannabis is just one part of the conversation when we’re talking about social justice.”
While Merritt claims that officials have been doing some work to change policies and make sure things like this don’t happen again, he admits that there is still a lot more work that needs to be done for things to be equitable. “The [Dallas] chief of police has stated that he’s passing new policies so that if someone is found with as little marijuana as [Marvin Scott] was, the policy is not to arrest them,” Merritt said. “This is an opportunity to address the disparities in marijuana policing and the consequences of that. The damage that the federal government has done with the war on drugs represents ongoing policies.”
As more stories of racial injustice involving cannabis to come to light, the push for federal legalization, an end to prohibition, and the expungement of criminal records for those who have been charged and convicted with a cannabis-related crime gains steam. At the very least, many in the United States are hopeful for the federal decriminalization of cannabis, especially since more and more people become educated on the racist roots of prohibition. The next few years will tell whether that dream can become a reality.