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Marijuana Jam: A Case for Legalization

Let me set the stage for you. Ahem- literally. It is a hot summer evening, and you are outside at a Luke Bryan concert in the middle of a cornfield, in bumfuck Indiana. You are in a sea of white people and middle-aged suburban parents,-when all of a sudden- it hits you. The faint smell of the devils’ lettuce. You stand up, brushing off the grass stuck to your sticky thigh, and begin searching for the stoners. It is not long before the entire venue reeks, and you watch as more and more people begin doing the same thing.


“Surely, these people are going to get in trouble”, you think, eyeing the police officers that appear in waves. Your anxious mind flashes to your African American friend who just got out of some serious trouble for marijuana.


But no, they keep walking. The officers look the other way as if they’re in on it too. Almost like a collective treat, Luke Bryan comes to town and we can smoke weed for the night. Makes sense right? Eh- not really. We can’t just pick and choose when a law is important, and to who it applies. The sale and small amounts of Marijuana possession should not be illegal in the United States, because marijuana was made illegal based on racist beliefs, and police continue to act on racist prejudices.


Racism and Marijuana


Let me catch you up on marijuana’s racist history. It began when the United States, believe it or not, blamed Mexico, essentially treating illegal Mexican immigrants and weed in the same manner. This, in turn, made Americans skeptical of marijuana. That is when American politicians rode the wave of skepticism and began the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs is,- and has always been the war on people of color. In 1994 President Richard Nixon’s main policy advisor, John Ehrlichman confirmed this saying, “ ‘We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did" (Reason). The more times you read that quote the more racist John gets. He speaks on purposefully “criminalizing both”, unsure if he is talking about criminalizing both of the drugs or both the people and the drugs, the weight of criminalization is something that many need to be reminded of.


When someone gets convicted of even a minor crime it is subjecting a person to legally be discriminated against for the rest of their life. Criminals are subjected to discrimination in the workplace, in housing markets, and even on the streets. Hmm… So when segregation and Jim Crow Laws were banned in 1964, suddenly, 7 years later in 1971, we began the ongoing War on Drugs? It is easy for us to look the other way on this one, say maybe the government wants us to be safe and healthy. The War on Drugs is conceptually a great idea, but not when the only target is people of color. Across my research, I found the same statistic over and over. African Americans and white people both use marijuana a very similar amount- shocker- but an African American is four times as likely to get arrested as a white man. This could be due to police prejudices towards African Americans, or it could be due to… that is all it could be due to.



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Crimes in the United States have a large impact on societal views, individual rights, and collective fear. To criminalize a drug, you would need to also create equality within that criminalization. If everyone can not be equally held accountable, or at least an attempt to hold everyone equally accountable for the SAME crime, then it should not hold the same weight as a criminal charge. For example, NYPD made 440,000 arrests for small possession of marijuana between the years 2002 and 2012. The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services made a statement, “We agree with Governor Cuomo who said in his 2013 State of the State address: "These arrests stigmatize, they criminalize, they create a permanent record. It's not fair, it's not right, it must end now”. Both the Governor and Criminal Justice Services agree that arrests made for marijuana are ineffective and discriminatory. The stigma surrounding marijuana is mainly present due to racial prejudices, therefore arrests would also be racially motivated.


As marijuana has become more acceptable, more authority heads have come out to say similar things regarding the effectiveness of marijuana-related arrests. Anthony V. Bouza, Former Chief Of Police Of Minneapolis stated-, “Making marijuana arrests a priority is a waste of police resources and does not reduce street violence. Illegal, trivial, meaningless arrests undermine confidence in the justice system and corrupt the enforcers” The opinions of law enforcement are important because ultimately, they are the ones doing the arresting. There are countless accounts of police officers claiming marijuana arrests as simply “a waste”. For the police officers who don’t want to see a man’s record get dirtied or put behind bars because of his skin tone, these arrests are wastes. By exerting resources on criminalizing marijuana, it begins to neglect the more important role police officers hold in our society. People will lose trust in the authority figures that continue to act on racial prejudices and those that fail to both acknowledge past mistakes and fail to change future actions.

White or black, nobody is saying marijuana is necessarily good for you. Marijuana is still an addictive drug with negative physical and mental health effects. Long-term use of marijuana has been linked with memory problems, lower IQ, decreased concentration-, and an unstable mood (Hammond). There have been no links between violence and marijuana use, but despite this marijuana is still not yet “as safe as alcohol” in the eyes of the law. That is weird because statistically, alcohol is more likely to be a danger to the public. According to the CDC excessive alcohol use was responsible for more than 380 deaths per day in the United States! The CDC claims excessive marijuana use will not kill you, and in a different study done in Colorado, it was found that marijuana-related deaths doubled after legalization. Oh no! They doubled from one person killed every 6 and a half days to every 2 and a half days. Now tell me again how the government is keeping marijuana illegal to “keep us safe”?



Bibliography


“Alcohol-Related Deaths.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Apr. 2022, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/features/excessive-alcohol-deaths.html#:%7E:text=Excessive%20alcohol%20use%20was%20responsible,than%20380%20deaths%20per%20day.


Alexander, Michelle. “Did Marijuana Legalization in Washington State Reduce Racial Disparities in Adult Marijuana Arrests?” The New York Times, 22 May 2013, www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/05/22/how-can-marijuana-be-sold-safely/in-legalizing-marijuana-end-the-racial-bias.


Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research Project. “One Million Police Hours: Making 440,000 Marijuana Possession Arrests in New York City, 2002‐2012.” One Million



Police Hours, vol. 1, 2013, pp. 1–16, drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/One_Million_Police_Hours.pdf.

Firth; Maher; Dilley ; Darnell ; Lovrich ;, CL; JE; JA; A; NP. “Did Marijuana Legalization in Washington State Reduce Racial Disparities in Adult Marijuana Arrests?” Substance Use & Misuse [Subst Use Misuse] 2019, vol. 54, no. 9, 2019, pp. 1582–87. EBSCO, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,geo,url,ip,guest&custid=s8475741&groupid=main&profile=eds&geocustid=s8475741&site=eds-live&scope=site&db=pbh&AN=136782190.


Hammond, Christopher J., et al. “Cannabis Use Among U.S. Adolescents in the Era of Marijuana Legalization: A Review of Changing Use Patterns, Comorbidity, and Health Correlates.” International Review of Psychiatry, vol. 32, no. 3, 2020, pp. 221–34. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1080/09540261.2020.1713056.


RockyMountainHigh Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Strategic Intelligence Unit.

“TheLegalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact.” The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact, vol. 5, 2018, pp. 1–18, www.madd.org/hawaii/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2019/02/ImpactUpdate_ColoradoLeagaliztionMarijuana_10.18.pdf.


Sullum, Jacob. “Gun Control Is Just as Dangerous as Drug Control.” Reason, 2022, eds.p.ebscohost.com/eds/detail/detail?vid=2&sid=e5319302-e7b9-4653-a2ea-c3c523b710b3%40redis&bdata=JkF1dGhUeXBlPXNzbyZzaXRlPWVkcy1saXZlJnNjb3BlPXNpdGU%3d#AN=154096354&db=rgs.


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