Why We Need Cannabis Criminal Justice Reform
History has presented the fact that the United States government has always been rather doubtful towards regulations surrounding cannabis. As of 2021, there are a total of 36 states in the US that have already legalized medical marijuana, whereas 19 states have accomplished legal status for recreational use. And in recent years, data has shown the number of arrests for marijuana possession have actually skyrocketed. This reality continues to drive the increasingly popular public and political consensus that the current penalties for possession of cannabis are far too severe.
As a result, many efforts continue to be made in an effort to decriminalize cannabis in the eyes of the federal government. These decriminalization measures are curated to seek to lessen and/or deny the possibility of incarceration for individuals caught in possession of cannabis.
However, a ray of hope in the form of the MORE Act was recently reintroduced to government officials on the 28th of May 2021 by Jerry Nadler, a House Judiciary Chair. The name MORE stands for ‘Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement’ Act. about removing cannabis from the list of Controlled Substance Act, thereby legalizing its possession and consumption. We covered an entire blog dedicated to the MORE Act 2021; you can read it here.
This article is an extension on our article about the MORE Act 2021. Here, we specifically focus on why it is crucial to have cannabis criminal justice reform in the US.
The Current State of Cannabis
There have been ongoing cases in which users followed state laws to legally consume cannabis and were still arrested during federal intervention. In the US alone, 15.7million have been imprisoned due to cannabis-related offenses. There are now millions of people that still have criminal convictions surrounding the possession of a substance that has been decriminalized in 33 states. Statistics show that the majority 7 of 10 American voters believe in cannabis legalization.
The past 20 years have shown evidence of the United States averaging more than 600,000 cannabis arrests each year, with black individuals being nearly four times more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested (though rate of the consumption is nearly the same for both). Critics of cannabis reform have spread a great amount of misinformation and have given several justifications for prohibiting cannabis, including arguments such as the following:
- The assumption that cannabis causes more harm to society and the user than alcohol and tobacco does.
- The increased potency of marijuana is dangerous.
- The addictive properties of cannabis are assumed to result in abuse.
- The assumption that cannabis consumption would send a latent message that people should be using it.
- The claim that cannabis is a gateway drug causing the use of harder drugs.
It is essential to note that all of the arguments listed above have been debunked by empirical research, and are now proven to be much more fiction than fact.
Surprisingly however, a survey conducted in 2018 found that majorities of both supporters and opponents of legalization support the clean slate proposal. This proposal seeks to automatically seal the records of those convicted of cannabis possession. Results found that 77% of legalization supporters back the sealing of records as do 54% of legalization opponents. Advocates of cannabis are pursuing legislative advocacy, and legal interventions to help such people acquire their due freedom.
Understanding the Need for Reform
Data shows clearly that American voters strongly support legislation to bring clean slate to fruition and help nonviolent offenders move on with their lives to successfully reintegrate into American life. As of reports in 2019, 66% of Americans had supported legalization. And currently looking back at long term trends, the data shows that attitudes surrounding cannabis and its prohibition have changed dramatically over the past few decades. A likely explanation for this drastic change in attitude is that the public has begun to understand that cannabis is a less harmful substance than other legal substances like alcohol and prescription drugs. Statistically, alcohol has shown to be by far a more harmful drug to society and the individual user in comparison to cannabis.
The criminalization of recreational cannabis use is seen largely as unjustified by a large number of Americans. As well, the enforcement of cannabis laws generates some of the justice system’s most apparent racial disparities. The votes towards the progression of the MORE Act will mark one of the most important and significant milestones in the history of cannabis reform. The successful passing of legislation through Congress remains the most viable path towards amending the federal Controlled Substances Act, so therefore it is the primary avenue that advocates must pursue at this point in time.
We Need Thoughtful Solutions
Authorities need to put their heads together to form policies that are not only beneficial for cannabis users as well as for the state and federal governments. Policies should be built around public health and economical security of the residents.
The Last Prison Project is among the few NGOs working in this area. They strive to bring justice to the wrongly evicted, decriminalize cannabis, and work to clear the record previously evicted cannabis users are facing. They offer assistance in three different areas namely prisoner release, re-entry programs, and clean slate initiatives.
Around 35 states have already legalized medical cannabis across the US. Each of these states are enjoying hefty revenue streams through cannabis sales. Furthermore, as different entities work towards making cannabis legal and safe to use, federal police will have limited authority to use undue power over legal users. This may even minimize federal police encounters that lead to the harassment of African-American people.
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