Marijuana prosecution linked to historic racial inequality

On Thursday, Oct. 6, President Biden pardoned thousands of people for their marijuana possession charges, stating that the legislation against marijuana does not make sense and that he wants to change the way the nation handles and perceives marijuana. Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance, held on the same level as heroin and LSD — an overreaction to the effects of marijuana.

Primary care physician, educator and cannabis specialist Peter Grinspoon shares his understanding of the use and effects of marijuana in a medical standing. He mentions various afflictions that marijuana helps with such as chronic pain, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, nausea, weight loss, Crohn’s disease, etc. He also states how marijuana can be more desirable than opiates due to its inability to cause an overdose and its lessened likelihood of addiction.

For a substance like this to be ranked equal to heroin and LSD — and may I add, above fentanyl, which is known to be highly addictive and deadly — is implausible. However, this new step forward from Biden is not about the use of marijuana, but the possession, and the effect of this pardon is still fantastic.

The glaring issue with prosecuting people with the possession of marijuana is the unfair racial bias accompanied with it. There has been an unjust number of Black and Latinx individuals being arrested for the possession of marijuana. The New York City Police Department holds records of arrests made for marijuana possession. During the first quarter of 2022, 35 individuals were arrested for possession and sale of marijuana — 30 of said individuals solely arrested for possession. Out of the total, 28 individuals were Black and Hispanic, and there were no white arrests. Then, during the second quarter, there were 33 total arrests with 27 being for possession, and 28 individuals that made up the total of arrests were Black and Hispanic.

This issue of racial bias in marijuana prosecution is not a modern issue, and marijuana prohibition from decades ago proves this. In 1937, when marijuana prohibition reached a federal level with the Marihuana Tax Act, it was prejudice against Mexican immigrants that fueled the desire for this legislation.

In the journal “Race, Gender & Class,” Kenneth Michael White and Mirya R. Holman go over the history of marijuana prohibition and its ties to racism.

“It was prohibition then, and it is prohibition now. Given that the policy of prohibition has remain[ed] unchanged since the early 1900s, and that the only softening of the penalties occurred when whites began to suffer them, it seems reasonable to suspect that the enforcement of marijuana prohibition today has inherited past racial animus in an unconscious way,” they wrote.

Pardoning people of their marijuana possession charges will have an amazing effect on the lives of those discriminated against, as well as those who struggled to find a job because of that mark on their record. They will not be punished for merely having a drug that has so many benefits against illnesses.

I hope that following this step, the federal government will reevaluate the effects of marijuana and legalize it federally. It does not make sense that the states can turn around and legalize it but the federal government refuses to. This pardoning is the first step towards marijuana legislation that many people have been anticipating for a long time.

Photo courtesy of Rodnae Productions, Pexels.