The Legalization of Marijuana

By Nupur Kudapkar and Adam Sarsfield  

Early in October, President Joe Biden started a review of the classification of marijuana and pardoned thousands of Americans who had been charged with federal crimes for possession of the substance. The president has pardoned around 6,500 people, but the public is not aware of the demographic breakdown. However, evidence leads to the majority being Black, Latino, and Indigenous people of America. Despite the fact that marijuana usage is now legal in almost 40 U.S. states, the remaining 10 and the federal government outright prohibit it. The trend for green laws does not appear to be slowing down any time soon either. Every cannabis-related ballot has passed (in November of 2020), including those in conservative states such as Mississippi, Montana, and South Dakota. Additionally, bills legalizing cannabis for recreational use have been approved by state legislatures in New York, New Mexico, and Virginia. In fact, there are currently fewer states that have not approved tetrahydrocannabinol (the principal psychoactive component of cannabis) for use as a recreational or therapeutic drug than there are states that have given their citizens permission to light up whenever they like.

The left backs the pardons and promotes the decriminalization of marijuana. While the right highlights the negative consequences of marijuana and is dubious of the pardons. ‍Leftist Leana Wen of the Washington Post says, “Perhaps the right balance to strike is to think of recreational marijuana as we do tobacco. Tobacco is legal, and people don’t go to jail for having cigarettes….” In addition, ‍Jennifer Rubin tells the Washington Post, “Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and Whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession…” (The Flip Side) While rightists such as ‍‍Jason L. Riley from the Wall Street Journal says, “Even Mr. Biden had to concede that no one is in federal prison for simple marijuana possession. What he didn’t say is that even among those housed in state prisons a relatively small percentage is there on drug offenses, and almost all of those were convicted of trafficking, not for being caught with small amounts of drugs for personal use…” and Ben Johnson from the Daily Signal says, “Emergency room cases of cannabis-induced psychosis increased 54% within three years after California legalized marijuana in 2016…” (The Flip Side). Both sides hold contrasting opinions about the legalization of marijuana, and the information incorporated into their arguments encourages individuals to form their own opinions.

Every state has its own regulations for the distribution of cannabis however California is the original leading state. Since approving medical marijuana with Prop 215 in 1996 (largely on the backs of LGBTQ activists advocating for AIDS patients), California has been at the forefront of legalization. In 2010, California allowed an expansion of retail dispensaries for medical products, many of which held questionable credentials. But when voters approved a bill to legalize adult use in 2016, the state created a drawback as the sale of marijuana held high taxes and expensive permits which made it difficult for current sellers and users to make the changeover to legally purchase marijuana. The state’s illegal market may be three times as large as the legal sector, which has reached $4.4 billion in yearly sales. Following California, other legalizing states have placed more of a priority on transforming black-market operations into legal dispensaries and making sure that the clients can afford the goods being sold. (Rolling Stone) Although the pardons from President Biden have freed many people from marijuana-related charges there is still much more progress needed to be made in regards to marijuana possession and distribution.