Is Legalization of Weed Enough?

Is Legalization of Weed Enough?

Hash Bash has been hosted annually at the University of Michigan Diag since 1972, when marijuana was still illegal in the state. Voters in the state of Michigan approved recreational marijuana use at the statewide level in November 2018. There is currently a movement to legalize marijuana on a federal level. Undoubtedly, the many activists and communities who worked so hard for this new law will celebrate the legalization of recreational marijuana usage as a tremendous victory.

The "War on Drugs," a slogan created by President Richard Nixon in the 1960s, has frightened communities of color ever since the 1950s. The harmful repercussions of the War on Drugs are still felt today, and it is impossible to summarize the topic in a few phrases. Nixon's domestic policy adviser John Ehrlichman, however, provided the clearest explanation of the scandal's unscrupulous motivations. According to Ehrlichman, they stereotyped African Americans as drug users on purpose to sow discord in their neighborhoods.

We may condemn them every night on the evening news, arrest their leaders, raid their houses, and disrupt their meetings. Quote from Ehrlichman. Is it true that we lied about taking drugs? We did, of course.

Professor of history Matthew Lassiter discussed his thoughts on the War on Drugs with The Michigan Daily.

In his opinion, "The War on Drugs is racially and economically discriminatory at its core," Lassiter stated. "Criminalization, law enforcement, and interdiction approaches also just make the illicit and illegal markets more lucrative, violent, and dangerous."

The incarceration rate in the United States increased by 400% between 1970 and 2000, and between 1985 and 2000, drug offenses accounted for two-thirds of the rise in federal detainees. When we learn how the War on Drugs singled out certain populations, we can better appreciate the gravity of the problems with today's drug laws.

The War on Drugs' real tragedy unfolds once inmates are released from jail. A person's entire career and financial future might be derailed by even a short stint in prison. People of color are disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs, and those who are incarcerated face diminished rights upon release. With the legalization of marijuana as part of the War on Drugs, long-suppressed forms of discrimination are once again acceptable. Having a criminal record can prevent you from voting, receiving public assistance, enrolling in certain schools, or even getting a decent job or a decent place to live.

This is by no means an exhaustive history of the War on Drugs, but it is sufficient to show that its corrupt objectives and persistent effects mean that legalizing marijuana is not sufficient to reverse decades of institutional racism. Immediate expungement of records of persons with marijuana possession charges would be a big step toward compensating for the enormous racial inequities produced by the War on Drugs.

Michigan has achieved significant progress compared to other states. The Clean Slate Law, signed into law by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, expunges a person's felony record after seven to ten years of good behavior, depending on the nature of the offense. This is progress, but it's not quite where we need to be yet. It's unfair that some people may make rich off of selling weed while others have to wait years to clear their names. Beyond the Clean Slate Law, there is still much to be done, according to Lassiter.

Lassiter remarked, "It's a start but not nearly enough." The "Clean Slate" policy "should apply to a much broader range of convictions/criminal records and be available immediately after release."

The War on Drugs has made racial biases more apparent in the process of expunging and releasing drug convictions. People of color have historically borne a disproportionate share of drug-related arrests and convictions, with catastrophic results. In her book "The New Jim Crow," Michelle Alexander details how law enforcement used drug charges as a weapon against African-American males.

Studies regularly indicated that whites were equally likely, if not more likely, to use and sell illegal drugs than persons of color, but this did not seem to matter, as Alexander explains. The stereotype that black men are the enemy persists.

This demonization of Black men has had far-reaching, negative consequences for society as a whole.

Allowing people to suffer for past marijuana infractions that are now lawful is harsh. In addition to being the moral thing to do, expunging drug-related felonies gives people more chances, which is excellent for business. After passing the Clean Slate Law, Whitmer declared it a "game-changer."

"When we help people get a good job so they can put a roof over their head, it is good for our state," said Whitmer. "It is good for our families, our small businesses, and our economy as a whole."

Indeed, she is correct. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the yearly GDP loss caused by criminal records as an obstacle to employment is between $78 billion and $87 billion. Erasing these records is not only the moral thing to do, but also makes good financial sense. Then why must we wait another seven years?

It's heartbreaking to witness how the government has let down its own people over the years, but when given the chance to do the right thing, no one should hesitate to seize it. All previous convictions for marijuana possession should be promptly expunged in order to put an end to the crooked and evil War on Drugs. While there is certainly nothing inherently wrong with marijuana use, I urge you to think about the countless people whose lives were profoundly altered because they were denied access to a legal substance. 

Oct 24th 2023

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