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Kansas Lawmaker Who Said Black 'Genetics' Led To Pot Prohibition Offers Apology

Luke Runyon
Harvest Public Media
Marijuana is legal under Colorado law, but not federal law, a U.S. prohibition that a state lawmaker contended came from how the "character" and "genetics" of black people respond to the drug. His comment drew wide condemnation.

Update: On Tuesday, Rep. Steve Alford gave up his chairmanship on a Kansas House committee and stepped aside from a child welfare task force.


After a western Kansas lawmaker suggested black people respond to the use of marijuana differently than others, the Republican leader of his own party condemned the remarks.

On Saturday in Garden City, Rep. Steve Alford of Ulysses said the drug was made illegal because of the way he contended it affects African-American users.

“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 of those drugs just because of their character makeup, their genetics and that,” the GOP legislator said. “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.”

At a legislative coffee in the western Kansas city with constituents on Saturday, the topic came up when Zach Worf, chairman of the Finney County Democrats, argued Kansas could draw in more tax revenue by legalizing pot sale and possession, like Colorado has just a few miles away.

That’s when Alford drifted into the remarks suggesting somehow that race and drug reactions are connected, a notion far removed from any science. Still, Alford suggested that idea triggered anti-marijuana laws in the 1930s.

On Monday, House Speaker Ron Ryckman, Jr., condemned Alford’s statements.

“We were taken aback by his statements, and disappointed with them and (in) no way they reflect the position of the Kansas House or the policies that we will produce,” Ryckman said.

Alford issued a written apology Monday afternoon. He said his comments were “an aside.”

“I was wrong,” the lawmaker said in a written statement. “I regret my comments and I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I have hurt.”

During Saturday’s coffee, Rep. John Doll, a Republican from Garden City, said Kansas shouldn’t even consider legalizing recreational marijuana in light of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ move last week to rescind the Obama-era policies that told federal prosecutors not to pursue federal marijuana charges in in states such as Kansas neighbor Colorado, where state law allows its possession and sale.

Legislators are expected to consider legislation that might legalize the use of cannabis for medical reasons. That’s become commonplace in other states, but is seen as unlikely to pass the Kansas Legislature this year.

Historically, illegal use of marijuana is, if anything, slightly more common among white Americans than black Americans. But African Americansare far more likely to face arrest or prosecution.

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