I live in California. The capital of recreational marijuana production and use; rivaled only by the amount of sunshine we get every year. Pot, weed, dope, reefer, whatever you want to call it; it is commonplace here. If you’re not into smoking it, there are also edibles and other products galore at one of the thousands of dispensaries around the state.
I’ll follow that up with the fact that I don’t take part. I don’t smoke it. I don’t eat edibles. I don’t even take anything with CBD in it. I know preliminary studies show it is healthy, but I don’t have any interest. Suffice it to say; I have no dog in this fight.
However, that doesn’t stop me from believing that marijuana should be 100% legal in the United States. There is no doubting the growing amount of science and evidence that marijuana is beneficial in several ways, and maintaining legal restrictions on it is idiotic and, frankly, fiscally irresponsible. This should be one of the first acts by a Democratic Congress and White House in 2021.
Let us not forget about the millions of people, mainly minorities, who have marijuana charges on their permanent criminal records. More importantly, countless people are currently locked up for life due to the arbitrary and racist ‘three strike’ policy. The fight against marijuana is and has always been rooted in racist politics from the very beginning.
War on Weed
In 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Marihuana Tax Act, making weed illegal on a federal level. Proof that not even FDR was perfect. Ironically enough, 30 years prior, California was the first state to legislate against cannabis, labeling it a ‘poison’ in 1907. It was near the start of the Mexican Revolution, and of course, it had everything to do with race.
Fleeing the growing violence, many Mexican immigrants moved north, finding their way over the border into the United States. Mexicans at the time used marijuana freely, primarily in a medicinal manner. In turn, the Americans waged a public relations campaign against the Mexican ‘troublemakers,’ inadvertently vilifying marijuana at the same time.
Ever since then the United States has danced with different levels of criminalization and decriminalization. However, it did become a straightforward means of conviction for minorities, especially Black men, for the last 40 years. The ACLU calculated Blacks are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite marijuana use being roughly equal between all races.
Arrests equal convictions. Convictions equal jail time. Jail time equals a permanent record that makes it almost impossible to find consistent and meaningful employment once released. It is a vicious cycle of disenfranchisement—all for taking part in something that shouldn’t be illegal in the first place.
Burn the Page
Two out of three Americans believe marijuana should be legalized without restriction, and more than 90% of Americans think it should definitely be legalized for medicinal and recreational use. The latest polling shows support by 70% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans. We have bipartisan support. What are we waiting for?
We cannot stop at simply legalizing marijuana, though. More must be done to right the wrongs of a bad law. It has done so much damage to lives and families over the years. In 2018 alone, there were over 600,000 convictions due to marijuana. 40% of all drug arrests in the U.S. in 2018 were for possession of marijuana. An incredible waste of taxpayer money for something that has majority support for legalization.
As of 2019, 2.3 million Americans were in prison for crimes related to marijuana. That is unacceptable. To be placed in prison, some for life, because of a plant that grows in nature, that white people partake in at four times less the chance of getting arrested for, that a majority of people want to be legalized. The problem is crystal clear.
The time has come for the government to legalize marijuana and its uses, and most importantly, expunge all criminal records associated with it. If we want racial justice, we can start right here. It would be a huge step in the right direction. These people deserve to have their pasts cleansed of something that should have never affected them in the first place.
The initial passing of legalization will be a lightning rod for the political party that pulls it off. With the Democratic Party's prospect of winning both houses of Congress and the White House in 2021, this could be their ace in the hole.
The first few years will be sheer momentum, carrying them through local and state election victories. But the economic impact will live on for a decade or more as tax revenues and industrial consumer spending begin to flow into state and federal coffers.
In 2014, Colorado legalized marijuana without most restrictions. It was to be a case study for legalization advocates across the country. Since then, the state of Colorado has brought in more than $200 million in tax revenue each of the last 5 years. The industry's revenue for the state is only expected to grow as it becomes more widely accepted and established.
It is estimated that a national industry centered around marijuana could bring in more than $130 billion in tax revenue a year and create more than 1 million jobs. You’re looking at more than $1 trillion in tax revenue in less than 7 years. Those numbers would be expected to rise greatly as the industry matures within the U.S. The economic multiplier from such a lucrative industry would be a political windfall for the Democratic Party.
Personally, I would want to see some of that tax revenue earmarked as a form of reparations or exclusive investment in majority Black and minority communities around the country. We can and should do more for our Black and brown brothers and sisters. The economic boost of legalizing marijuana should go to the communities that were disproportionately affected by its criminalization in the first place.
It is not just recreational cannabis use that is at stake here either. There are dozens of industries that could capitalize on legalization, which would make the world a better, more efficient place, and become massive job creators at the same time. Medicine, health and beauty, food lines, banking, investments, and more are all positively affected by the legalization of marijuana.
Public sentiment toward weed is higher than it has ever been and shows no signs of backsliding. Legalization is an easy win for Democrats and an economic windfall for state and federal governments. It would guarantee that the Democratic Party maintains its grip on the governmental steering wheel for the next ten years or longer.