Republican Lawmaker Says Black People Can’t Handle Marijuana Due To Character, Genetics

Written by Dana Sanchez

A Kansas state Republican lawmaker supported the racist and discredited policies of the Jim Crow era when he told a crowd gathered at a legislative coffee session that African Americans are genetically predisposed to handle marijuana worse than other races.

Kansas is one of the few remaining states that haven’t legalized some form of medical marijuana, including low-THC marijuana derivatives that can’t get a user high, CBS reported. But interest is not subsiding.

At the public legislative coffee on Saturday, Zach Worf, president of the Finney County Democrats, argued that legalizing marijuana could be a financial boon to cash-strapped Kansas.

State Rep. Steve Alford (R) responded by telling the all-white crowd of about 60 people that marijuana was criminalized during the prohibition era of the 1930s, mainly because of black marijuana use, Garden City Telegram reported.

“What was the reason why they did that?” Alford said. “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.”

No one addressed Alford’s comments during the legislative coffee event — something that got a lot of attention on Twitter.

After the Q&A session had ended, Worf said Alford’s comment was “the most racist thing (he) ever heard,” according to the Garden City Telegram.

Darrell Pope, the president of the NAACP’s chapter in Hutchinson, said Alford “is an idiot and that shows how oblivious Kansans are to selecting representatives to put someone like that in there to represent them.”

Rep. Valdenia Winn, a black Democrat from Kansas City, Kansas, said Alford should apologize to people of color in his district. His remarks are bizarre, she said.

Alford, 75, issued a written apology Monday for his remarks after lawmakers and state officials condemned his remarks.

“I apologize, I regret my comments and I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I have hurt,” Alford said in a statement, clarifying that what he was referring to was the “damaging effects on the African American community.”

The Republican-controlled House’s top GOP leaders, Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. and Majority Leader Don Hineman said they were “completely taken aback” and disappointed by Alford’s remarks, according to CBS:

Alford was first elected to the House in 2010 and is chairman of its Children and Seniors Committee as well as a legislative task force on child welfare issues. As speaker, Ryckman has the power to strip members of committee chairmanships. If another lawmaker files a formal complaint over Alford’s remarks, Ryckman would be required under the House’s rules to appoint a special investigating committee that would make recommendations on whether the chamber should take formal action, such as a censure. It wasn’t clear Monday whether any other lawmaker would push for such a review. Ryckman said GOP leaders would consult with other lawmakers and their staff on how to respond.”

Alford’s Jim Crow-like comments refer to a period in U.S. history when Harry Anslinger, the founding commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), got famous for being racist and for fighting against marijuana. Under Anslinger’s leadership, the FBN helped pass the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, regulating cannabis and taxing it to the detriment of the then-booming hemp industry.

From 1930 to 1937, Anslinger campaigned for prohibition of the cannabis plant. He said marijuana caused crime and violence. These are some quotes attributed to Anslinger:

  • “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
  • He said marijuana prohibition was founded on the prevention of “its effect on the degenerate races.”
  • He said at the time, “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”

Alford told The Associated Press he is not a racist. “I got called a racist, which I’m really not, and it’s just the way people … the interpretation of people. To me, I’m trying to look at what’s really the best for Kansas.”

Kansas Republican lawmaker
Image: Cameron K. Lewis

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About Dana Sanchez
Dana Sanchez was born in South Africa and is a U.S. citizen. After working in advertising, she went back to school and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida. As a business writer, she won regional and national writing awards. As editor of a daily newspaper, she coordinated staff writers, freelancers and photographers in the fast-paced environment of daily news. Dana was an editor at Moguldom Media Group for four years, helping to build and manage a team of staff and freelance writers. She works now on for Nubail Ventures. A long-distance hiker and cyclist, she writes about the business of technology.