In a new review of the nation’s cannabis laws, a leading racial justice nonprofit is urging voters to get involved in MarylandAnd the South Dakota and other states where legalization will be on the ballot this fall.
The NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund says that Congress’ wait for federal reform is not enough to fix the racial damages of the drug war.
While hopes are high for Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), a federal legalization bill introduced last month by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other Democrats, the legislation still faces long prospects. And even if it becomes law, it will not provide relief for most people convicted of cannabis, as the majority of these convictions are at the state level.
“Federal decriminalization and deletion of cannabis does not affect individuals who have been convicted under state cannabis laws,” wrote Simeon Spencer, a former researcher and operations assistant at the NAACP LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute. “In order to adequately address the racial inequality rooted in cannabis-related policy, both state and federal governments must act.”
In 2018, 89% of people federally convicted of cannabis charges were people of color.
The War on Drugs fueled mass arrests, and racist drug policies continued to harm black Americans. Efforts to legalize cannabis should include erasing the registry.https://t.co/xpOBmTrMVW
Legal Defense Fund (NAACP_LDF) August 8, 2022
Spencer’s Analysis, “Correcting America’s Racial Cannabis Laws,” is a call to action and introductory handbook on the history of cannabis in the United States. The drug was widely advertised for health purposes as early as the mid-1800s, but cannabis became federally illegal in the 1930s due to fear of Mexican immigrants and black cultural movements like jazz sparked by federal officials such as Harry Anslinger, First Commissioner The Federal Bureau of Narcotics Control.
“The trend toward criminalization occurred later in US history—and stemmed from racism and xenophobia,” Spencer Writes. Individual states began banning the plant shortly after horror stories about immigrants from Mexico smoking marijuana were reported by the media at the turn of the century.
Not only was the drug war driven by racism, but its implementation fell on an almost global scale along ethnic lines. The paper notes that black people are about four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis use than whites despite similar use rates. And in 2018, 89 percent of the more than 2,000 people sentenced on federal cannabis charges were people of color.
“Today, many black Americans continue to sit in prison under mandatory life sentences,” says the NAACP LDF publication, while the legal pot industry (mainly run by white men) is expected to bring in $45 billion in 2024.”
Legalization alone does not correct past mistakes in the drug war, Spencer explains, but it is “a first step in reimagining punitive drug policy.”
“There is no doubt that the colossal effort to instill racism and disinformation into drug policy will not be easily overcome,” the paper says. “An equally great effort must be made to remedy these damages.”
Racial cannabis policies targeted black Americans and fueled mass incarceration for decades. Legalizing cannabis is the first step in reimagining punitive drug policies. Now, polling initiatives are giving voters a chance to repair some of this damage. https://t.co/xpOBmTrMVW
Legal Defense Fund (NAACP_LDF) August 7, 2022
The NAACP LDF says erasing and stamping out previous cannabis convictions are essential steps to help address the disproportionate effects of drug war enforcement. These convictions often stand in the way of securing housing, jobs, or education.
But not all state legalization procedures contain provisions for the abolition of state fees.
Spencer’s paper provides the example of Virginia, which legalized cannabis through the state legislature last year. The legislation initially included language that would overturn previous marijuana convictions, but lawmakers did not include this provision in their final bill.
In Oklahoma in November, voters might think Two opposing initiatives on the cannabis ballot. Spencer wrote: “Some groups who might sympathize with the legalization of recreational cannabis oppose question 820 because it does not address erasure—which is addressed in another potential ballot initiative, question 819.” (Question 820 does not include a deletion clause that does not allocate specific funds to support the process. The section of Question 819 that included the deletion clause appears to have been completed fell in court.)
Maryland Arranging the next legislative voteIn the meantime, convictions for conduct made lawful under the proposed change will automatically be struck off, and people currently serving time for such offenses will be eligible for re-sentencing. The proposal also allows people who have been convicted of possession with intent to distribute to petition the courts for write-off three years after completing their sentence.
South Dakota Ballot Scale No mention of write-off.
“While the state waits to see if Congress will act at the federal level, it is critical that voters make their voices heard in these November ballot initiatives,” Spencer wrote. “While these votes do not cancel out the harmful legacy of cannabis policy, they are a strong foundation upon which citizens can advocate for more comprehensive solutions, including delisting, treatment and recovery programs.”