Don’t get lost in the weeds, legalize marijuana

Toyloy Brown III, Staff Writer

The U.S. has some repulsive laws, such as ones that allow systemic racism to persist. Existing laws cater to the protection of police officers who grossly abuse their powers, killing law-abiding citizens and walking scot-free after never being charged with murder.

Another atrocious law is federal legislation on cannabis, which, similarly to other unjust laws, happens to undermine Black people more frequently.

Today, recreational cannabis use is legal in 18 states and Washington D.C. It is also decriminalized in 27 states and legal for medicinal use in 37 states.

Federally, however, cannabis is illegal as it is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, which was signed by former President Richard Nixon in 1970. Drugs in this category, such as heroin and molly, are viewed as having the highest potential for abuse and severe psychological or physical dependency.

The discrepancy in cannabis law between states and the government is confusing at best and illogical at worst. The only rationale is tied to the profits that the U.S. makes from its prison system as well as its veiled racism.

While the law of the land perceives cannabis as more detrimental than Schedule II drugs like cocaine and fentanyl, a record-high 68% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, according to a 2021 Gallup poll. This is likely due to many people’s understanding of weed’s ability to relieve stress and enhance focus.

Dr. Marcel Bonn-Miller, a substance abuse specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, told WebMD that the best evidence for cannabis’ medicinal benefits indicates its therapeutic effects to reduce chronic pain, tight muscles and nausea.

As weed grows more mainstream and is not widely considered as hardcore of a substance as the federal law wants us to believe, there should be a more extensive conversation on why there have been and continue to be people incarcerated for non-violent marijuana-related crimes in this country.

There were nearly 700,000 marijuana arrests in 2018, which accounted for more than 43% of all drug arrests, according to a 2020 report by the American Civil Liberties Union. Additionally, for every 10 marijuana arrests, nine were for possession.

While FBI data showed cannabis arrests fell precipitously in 2020, there is no reason to believe this has remained true as the drop was likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Black people are disproportionately affected by cannabis-related arrests. A Black person was about four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates, according to the AC LU’s data that charted through 2018.

Peyton McKenzie

Even with an overall decrease in marijuana arrests nationwide and a greater number of states that have either legalized or decriminalized it, the ACLU has found that the racial disparity had not improved since it began charting arrest rates in 2010.

Why is this the case? The federal government’s intent to keep the illegality of cannabis alive is rooted in Nixon’s “law and order” presidency and his infamous war on drugs campaign.

This campaign believed the best way to handle recreational use and potential abuse of drugs was by terrorizing people, specifically targeting those who are Black, across the country. While the campaign tried to cloud its racism, arrests and long prison sentences were used to solve the “drug problem” as opposed to treating drug use as a public health concern with a treatment-based response.

The legacy of the war on drugs has a through line from the Nixon presidency to today’s continued federal ban on cannabis. Suspicion of cannabis can be used for probable cause that allows police officers to search and detain individuals and have an increased likelihood of finding a different charge.

Not only should cannabis be completely legal, but people imprisoned for nonviolent marijuana offenses prior to the states’ legalization should be given clemency. The outdated sins that were born from the Nixon presidency should be corrected instead of prolonged.

Incarcerated people should also have their offenses expunged. Removing the criminal brand for the majority of those arrested for cannabis possession will give a chance for an actual semblance of freedom — a better chance to maintain employment and housing, secure government assistance and contribute to their communities. The individuals arrested aren’t the only ones affected. The communities they are ripped from suffer too.

Pot smokers everywhere should enjoy 4/20 and hope for a federally legalized tomorrow. The rest of us can hope for the same.

What shouldn’t be lost in the weed zeitgeist is the disparate amount of Black people from the past and today who are behind bars for an activity that many don’t find an issue with.