By Jessica Johnson
With this annual “4/20” holiday rolling past, it’s only justified that the U.S. House of Representatives is looking to decriminalize marijuana possession and consumption.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act was introduced April 1, a legislation that aims to decriminalize cannabis on the federal level. The act passed 220-204, and is a step to building consensus on something that will eventually become a law, according to the New York Times. NYT also stated, “The Democrats’ bill would remove marijuana from the federal government’s list of controlled substances, impose an 8% tax on cannabis products, allow some convictions on cannabis charges to be expunged and press for sentencing reviews at the federal and state levels. It would also make small business administration loans and services available to cannabis businesses while setting standards for them.”
Currently, 47 states have enacted more relaxed marijuana laws depending on state vote, 37 have legalized cannabis for medical purposes and 15 recognize the drug for recreational purposes. On a federal level, marijuana should not be put on the same level as more harmful drugs, such as heroin on a criminal conviction level.
The act offers reform to a judicial system that consistently has failed minorities in crime sentencing in the courts. The House touches on racial justice in the legislation outline, and considers the legalization of marijuana to be an issue of racial justice for those who are currently incarcerated for long periods of time on strictly charges of marijuana possession, consumption, and more. According to Sec. 2 of the Act, subsection 8, line 18, “People of color have been historically targeted by discriminatory sentencing practices resulting in Black men receiving drug sentences that are 13.1 percent longer than sentences imposed for White men and Latinos being nearly 6.5 times more likely to receive a Federal sentence for cannabis possession than non-Hispanic Whites.”
Within the Act, subsection 7 also states, “The continued enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws results in over 600,000 arrests annually, disproportionately impacting people of color who are almost 4 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than their White counterparts, despite equal rates of use across populations.”
Which is ironic, considering one-fifth of cannabis business owners identify as minority, with only 4% being Black. In a system that punishes minorities for possession of a medical and recreational drug, this is a major act that would help minorities get justice that have been wrongly convicted on drug possession charges, especially those charged for possession of small amounts of cannabis.
Many who have grown up in urban areas in New York may leave their house in the morning to their daily walk to school, and smell what mirrors a skunk like aroma. For those that have grown up in poverty or low socio-economic areas, this is a normal occurrence that most are used to and don’t mind, the drug often being a happiness gateway or a nice way to get away from the violence, troubles and constant supremacy run institutions that try to control those who may not look like the typical suburban or rural resident. It helps bond communities together, underneath all the social, economic and political turmoil going on. It brings many together, even if it’s as young adults using it responsibly, as a source of fun and a getaway from the constant brutalization of the life they’re born into.
Those that may have grown up around “trap houses” or “weed spots” have become normalized to the drug, and many use it responsibly, as it has become a cycle in low income neighborhoods to make their living in a non-optional way. For some, this may be their only source of income, and just like any legal business, where minorities are not given the opportunity to create, some need to do this act to get by.
It is what it is.
Marginalized groups have always had to fend for themselves, especially in a system that is built on white supremacy. That extends into every knick and cranny of everything these groups do, and somehow the justice system always finds a way to punish those who are just trying to get by day to day as an American.
Living the American dream, they say.
This racial justice Bill would help move toward that notion. Stated by NYT, “Even as states move forward with legalization, people convicted on marijuana offenses — disproportionately people of color — remain imprisoned. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill’s provision to expunge marijuana convictions and lower sentences would reduce time served by current and future inmates by 37,000 years.”
The dream is to stop punishing those who are trying to get by, when their human right has already been taken away from birth based on their ethnicity and nationality. It seems impossible for anyone who is not White, to truly live the “American dream.”
Restoration of a flawed system starts with the Bill actually passing in the Senate, needing 60 votes to pass, as it is time to give justice to minorities who haven’t been given a chance from the beginning.