The United States should legalize the possession, cultivation, use and sale of recreational marijuana. Bet you weren’t expecting this opinion from a college student, were you? As trite as it might seem, it bears repeating, considering the impact that marijuana prohibition has on the daily lives of so many people in the United States.
Most of my columns call for policies that are a bit outside of the political mainstream, but marijuana legalization is immediately feasible. According to a 2018 Pew Research poll, 62 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana. In addition, ten different states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, plus Washington D.C.), as well as the entire country of Canada have legalized the sale of recreational marijuana. And none of them have succumbed to hordes of bead-hawking hippies yet. Except for California, of course, but that’s nothing new there.
Despite increased legalization of marijuana in the past decade, arrests for marijuana possession have increased. Over 40 percent of all drug arrests in the United States in 2017 were for marijuana, and an overwhelming majority — about 599,282 out of 659,700 — were for simple possession. The criminalization of marijuana has had a disproportionate effect on people of color. Despite white and Black Americans using drugs at roughly the same rates, Black Americans are five times more likely to go to prison for drug possession than their white counterparts. Marijuana possession was also the fourth most common justification for the deportation of legal permanent residentsas of 2013. In these ways, marijuana prohibition is a weapon of white supremacy to exploit and displace Black and Latinx populations.
The clear course of action is to legalize the possession and sale of recreational marijuana. Just as with the historical prohibition on alcohol, the prohibition on marijuana causes significantly more harm than it prevents. North Carolina has taken some steps in the right direction — as early as 1977, the state knocked possession of up to an ounce of cannabis down from a felony to a misdemeanor, and in recent years, it has legalized the production and sale of industrial hemp and CBD oil.
The statewide legalization of marijuana could be an economic boon. Moreover, it would reduce the expansive power of the carceral state, and on the federal level, legalization would strike significant blow against the prison-industrial complex. An important component of any bill that legalizes marijuana, however, should be the release of all prisoners held on marijuana-related charges, as well as some compensation for their legal persecution. Ending a long-standing tool of systemic oppression is not enough; we will also have to undo the damage that this oppression created.