I’ve been thinking a lot lately about devoting some serious energy toward marijuana reform in Virginia. I’m hungry for a cause. This one might make the most sense to me, personally.
What most inspires me to support marijuana reform is the travesty of people’s lives thrown violently off track in the aftermath of weed-related arrests and incarcerations.
The fact that non-whites are more greatly targeted than their white neighbors is also deeply concerning; a web of poverty and racist-in-practice laws that’s too much for even the most resilient to overcome. About 40% of federal male prisoners are black (even higher at state level). Compare that to overall percentage of black people in America, 12.6%, and alarm bells should be going off. According to data released by the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (as reported here by NORML), 1 in 8 federal inmates are there for marijuana-related offenses.
From the AP:
“Black people are arrested for possessing marijuana at a higher rate than white people, even though marijuana use by both races is about the same, the American Civil Liberties Union reports in a new study.”
More from the ACLU report:
“Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.”
|Compare/contrast the top image of a grow field with the bottom image of facility in which they make our chemical pills. Which one should be more strictly regulated? (Top pic: marijuanapictures.com. Bottom pic: tajpharma.com)|
I’m not sure if you can phrase this talking point so bluntly (I know), but to me it’s patently obvious that the marijuana drug laws are there as a way to oppress economically disadvantaged people of color.
The thing is, the vast majority of people need a little help chilling out. Life is hard. Life is weird. None of it fits together. Marijuana is an economically sound way to find this relief. The fancy people can afford magic pills that make the other fancy people wealthy. Moreover, a lot of people’s favorite soothing poison is alcohol, a substance we all know has a way of leading to violence.
At this point, reform is most likely to happen at the state level (I’m not touching local level, and I think the federal government will cave only when overwhelmed by public opinion and the states’ will). There might be a shot in VA—won’t exactly be the next “golden leaf,” but it’d have a huge positive impact economically, both in increased tax revenue and the reallocation of enforcement, judicial and correctional budgets to other areas where they are desperately needed.
We have to see how regulations and the market play out to know how much revenue legalization could bring in. According to Pew, “the Colorado Center on Law and Policy predicted that marijuana legalization would produce $60 million annually in new revenue and savings for the state each year until 2017.”
The view in Virginia is even more optimistic. According to this article in the Washington Post, “Virginia could reap more than $250 million a year in ‘sin tax’ revenues on regulated marijuana sales, and save another $245 million in enforcement costs. That’s roughly $500 million a year. Granted, Virginia’s statewide budget is about $42 billion a year. But $500 million would build and fix a lot of roads and buy a lot of classroom computers.”
No matter what the amount ends up being, that’s money not currently in the coffers.
And the worst part about the current marijuana laws is that they don’t even work!
“Enforcing marijuana laws costs us about $3.6 billion a year,” the ACLU report states, “yet the War on Marijuana has failed to diminish the use or availability of marijuana.”
Imagine what other crimes could have been averted or solved had these resources been used more wisely. According the Marijuana Policy Project, “in Virginia, of the 22,024 marijuana-related arrests reported by state law enforcement in 2011, 90% of them were for possession. That same year, nearly half of all reported rapes and 80% of all burglaries, including home invasions, were not solved.”
Seventy-two percent of registered voters in Virginia support medical marijuana. And nearly half of all Americans say that growing marijuana should be legal.
Change is only a matter of when, not if.
Marijuana laws are a cynical oppressor wrapped in a blanket of hypocrisy. We need more literacy teachers, not federal drug agents, prison workers, and dads and moms taken away from their families because they wanted to chill out with a joint and enjoy the goddamn evening breeze.
So what’s the most effective way for a regular person to use their time toward this cause? I hope to figure that out over the next weeks and months.