(Getty/Juanmonino)

Kansas GOP Rep. says black peoples' "genetics" cause drug abuse

Steve Alford says African-Americans react worse to drugs "because of their character makeup, their genetics"


Charlie May
January 9, 2018 4:44PM (UTC)

A Kansas state representative is apologizing after implying that black people have "genetics" and "character makeup" that make them prone to be addicted to drugs — while discussing his support for the prohibition of marijuana.

Republican Rep. Steve Alford of Ulysses made the unspeakably racist remarks on Saturday at a legislative coffee session at St. Catherine Hospital, where he defended the prohibition of marijuana, citing Jim Crow-era laws.

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"Basically any way you say it, marijuana is an entry drug into the higher drugs," Alford said, according to the Garden City Telegram, a local Kansas newspaper. "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?"

He answered his own question, saying, "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."

The most minimal of research, however, obviously proves this assertion to be false. Whites and blacks use marijuana at roughly an equal rate, but blacks were almost four times as likely to be arrested for use of the substance, according to a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union. As states have moved to legalize marijuana recreationally, it's been increasingly difficult to find banks that would accept money from marijuana sales, as noted in the video below.

Alford doubled down on his claims before he eventually apologized, but he never cited any evidence to prove that was he was saying was rooted in fact.

"There are certain groups of people, their genetics, the way their makeup is, the chemicals will affect them differently," Alford said, the Telegram reported. "That’s what I should have said was drugs affect people differently instead of being more specific."

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He added: "It’s just the history of how come we are with the drug laws that we do have today, and how come the United States was so prevalent in outlawing drugs. I think we’ve got to look back to see what has happened in the past to look forward."

Following widespread condemnation over his remarks, Alford apologized and admitted he had been wrong.

"I was wrong, I regret my comments and I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I have hurt," he said, the Telegram reported.

But the words have stronger meaning than many may realize. They come at a time when Attorney General Jeff Sessions has vowed to revamp the so-called war on drugs and reaffirm the U.S.'s commitment to the prohibition of marijuana, despite many states passing progressive laws to decriminalize or legalize the substance. The criminal justice system in the U.S. has a long history of systemic racism that has led to the mass incarceration of blacks at higher rates than white people, as well as longer term sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Recently, even reading material that expresses that portion of history has been banned from some prisons.

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Charlie May

Charlie May is a news writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @charliejmay

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