Legalize Weed

Polis: Center for Politics
4 min readFeb 15, 2024

Max Bremner (PPS ‘25)

Max Bremner (PPS ‘25)

Reefer, marijuana, the devil’s lettuce, cannabis, bud, weed, and Mary Jane are just a slice of the seemingly countless names prescribed to this plant throughout different generations. Criminalized by a justice system designed to oppress minorities, weed has played a pivotal role secret to Americans, and it’s shocking to find out that these destructive policies remain today. After 50 years, it is evident that these policies do not work as intended and end up harming the communities that they target without creating any positive infrastructure for those who may need it.

I’ve grown up seeing firsthand experience of weed being used for racism and prejudice that I didn’t realize still existed in America. Stop and frisk, a policy that allowed the New York police officers to stop and search individuals without reason, is a policy that highlights the dangerous connotations of continuing the failed War on Drugs. As you might imagine, NYPD implemented this policy to harass young people of minority racial groups and ethnicities, specifically young Black men. In only two decades, the NYPD conducted millions of searches. This number is shocking, considering the NYC population is 8 million. From 2003 to 2022 (yes, you heard the 2022 right), the NYPD conducted searches in over 90% of their stops, using claims of “smelling an odor of marijuana” to justify their violation of individual privacy. At the height of this era, almost a decade ago, the police in New York arrested 50,000 people a year, 85% people of Black or Hispanic identities, on low-level marijuana possession charges. These victims of the war on drugs were sent to Riker’s Island and into one of the most vicious and dehumanizing prison systems over a plant that is now being sold and taxed by the most elite and privileged in the country.

In some ways, I am a part of this privileged group. I grew up not fearing the cops or what could happen if I was caught smoking. In the city, it was typical to smoke outside growing up or in a park where our biggest fear would be a ticket for smoking, but never a marijuana arrest. This wasn’t true for many of my closest friends, though. For those in my life who weren’t white or white-passing, the threats around marijuana were genuine. There are two drastically different realities that we grew up in because of the stigma against weed that has been perpetuated by a criminal justice system created by white supremacists. As I grew up, the city moved to decriminalize and later legalize marijuana, an incredible reversal from the policies when I was younger. Despite this profound policy change, weed-related crimes have not increased, specifically in the long term, as dispensaries open up throughout the city.

Sadly, many states in America still criminalize a plant that has more medicinal potential and history of use than most pharmaceuticals. In North Carolina, the state legislature recently passed the Compassionate Cares Act legalizing the medicinal use of weed in the state, a small yet crucial step toward legalization. It is too soon to see how effective the implementation of the medical industry will be, but there is practically none at the time of writing this article. One of the best treatments for pain on the market and nowhere near as addictive as traditional opioid painkillers that fuel the real drug crisis, it is shocking that it has taken so long to legalize weed.

The list of things Americans agree on seems to be rapidly shrinking as our culture becomes increasingly polarized. Despite this, there is widespread support for weed legalization that can’t be other prominent issues. 9 out of 10 Americans believe weed should be legal for recreational or medical use. Although minor improvements have been made, it is shocking that weed has not been legalized or decriminalized in North Carolina and many other states throughout the country. Decriminalization has only happened on a trim level, with over 20,000 North Carolinians being arrested in 2021 for over half an ounce. Considering the long history of weed being used to persecute and incarcerate Minority groups throughout the country, its continued criminalization, especially in states with Confederate ties, is a poignant reminder that, without action, the white supremacy that built our criminal justice system and other institutions will remain everlasting.

Stop ruining lives — legalize weed. People are going to smoke either way.

Max Bremner is from New York City and an Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ‘23 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.

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