A white Republican politician has resigned from two legislative committees after suggesting black people were more susceptible to drugs because of ”their character make-up” and “genetics”.
Steve Alford apologised for comments made during a town hall meeting but defied calls to step down completely from the Kansas House of Representatives.
His remarks came during a public meeting in Garden City as he made a case against the state following its neighbour Colorado in legalising marijuana.
The lawmaker said: “In the 1930s, when they outlawed all kinds of drugs across the United States, what was the reason they did that? One of the reasons why – I hate to say it – is the African-Americans, they were basically users and they basically responded the worst to those drugs, just because of their character make-up; their genetics and that.”
About 60 people, all white, were present at the meeting, reported The Garden City Telegram. Video footage shows no one challenged Mr Alford’s comments at the time.
But the Representative for the city of Ulysses was branded an “idiot” and accused of racism after the newspaper reported the remarks.
Representative Willie Dove, a black Kansas City-area Republican, said described Mr Alford’s comments as “unbelievable” and “a statement of total ignorance”.
“I think racism is total ignorance,” he said, adding that previously ”there were no signs he felt that way”.
A leader for the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People called Mr Alford an “idiot”.
In a statement, Mr Alford said: “This past weekend I made comments at a town hall in Garden City, Kansas, regarding my opposition to the legalisation of marijuana.
“As an aside, I also remarked that one of the original reasons behind the criminalisation of the drug in the 1930s was its negative effects on society and more specifically the damaging consequences on the African-American community.
“I was wrong, I regret my comments, and I sincerely apologise to anyone whom I have hurt.”
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He has stepped down as chairman of the House Children and Seniors Committee and as vice-chairman of a joint legislative task force on child welfare, and will give up his seat on both panels.
“We came to a mutual understanding,” House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr, a Kansas City-area Republican, told reporters after meeting with Mr Alford. “His remarks were a disappointment and unfortunate.”
But Representative Valdenia Winn, a black Kansas City Democrat, said Mr Alford should give up the seat on the state’s House of Representatives that he has held since 2011. She said giving up the committee leadership jobs was “insignificant.”
“Until he resigns from the legislature, there is no difference,” Ms Winn said. “You owe that to your constituents and the state of Kansas.”
Additional reporting by agencies