By PATRICK BROWN
On Feb. 27, the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill that if signed would legalize marijuana in the state of Virginia. Even though legalization is supported by two thirds of Americans nationally, Virginia would be the 16th state to legalize marijuana recreationally.
In 2018, 1,654,282 arrests were made nationally for drug law violations, according to Drugpolicy.org. Of those about 27 percent were Black, despite the Black population of the United States being about half that. Hispanics are also twice as likely as whites to be sent to prison for drug use. The increased incarceration rate of Black and Hispanic Americans for drug use does not reflect increased drug use among those groups but rather the targeted policing of urban areas.
The fact is that the War on Drugs has targeted minorities at unequal rates despite white people using at the same rate. Nearly 80 percent of those in federal prison for drug offenses are Black or Latino. Then there are the draconian “Rockefeller Laws,” named after Governor Nelson Rockefeller, that pushed harsh sentences for drug offenders that became the standard, and tore families apart by putting drug users away for decades. These cruel sentences are one of the main reasons that the United States has the number one highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. We spend $182 billion dollars every year to keep nearly 1 percent of the adult population behind bars.
Half a million people are locked up for nonviolent drug possession charges; that is, one out of every five people currently in jail. Many jobs automatically bar people convicted of felonies from even applying. So in many cases, people who were not career criminals before being arrested are forced to become so after being released because their record prevents them from getting other work. Whatever crime against society these people have committed, surely it is not worth it to destroy a community and turn people who may have been active contributors to the community into criminals.
If that does not convince you that we should not be sending marijuana users to jail, how about this: a fatal marijuana overdose is almost impossible. Of course marijuana does have some dangers, but so do alcohol and cigarettes, which are very much legal. Legalizing maijuana also opens the door to regulation, which would make using the drug safer because buyers would know exactly where what they are buying came from and how strong it is.
“It’s always been legal for white people,” said sophomore international affairs major and class president Joe Johnson. “Marijuana legalization is about a larger trend shaping our drug policy to take the foot off of minorities. And there’s always the added bonus of creating more tax dollars and allowing an institution, in this case the government, to ensure that any goods consumed in their jurisdiction are safe for the general public.”
We are also beginning to discover that marjiuana may have health benefits. 36 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for medical use. Marijuana was demonized for so long that really we do not know that much about the effects of the drug. Full legalization would make it much easier for doctors and scientists to study the effects of the drug and determine in greater detail just how useful it might be for things like pain control or nausea management. Already, the FDA has approved several marijuana based medicines including Epidiolex, a treatment for severe child epilepsy. Little is known about the long term impacts of medical marijuana, but that is actually another argument for its legalization. With marijuana legalized, we can better study and understand its impacts.
One of this country’s founding ideologies is that of liberty, meaning that someone’s way of life should be free from oppressive restriction. It seems to me that the adult population of this country should be able to do whatever they want to themselves, so long as they are fully aware of the consequences. That is exactly how we deal with alcohol and tobacco now, and I see no reason why Americans should not be allowed to treat marjuana the same way.