OPINION | Legalizing marijuana is more important than you think

Doxey Kamara, Intersections Editor

Mylie Bluhm

President Biden recently announced a pardon for every conviction for a federal offense of simple marijuana possession. Biden also urged all governors to follow suit for charges at the state level and requested that officials consider reclassifying marijuana. Currently, marijuana is a Schedule I drug, in the same category as fentanyl and cocaine. 

These could be the Biden administration’s first steps to full decriminalization, but it could also be a performative measure ahead of midterm elections. The president may have warmed up to the idea of decriminalizing marijauna, but that does not mean it will happen.

In the meantime, readers should note that noncitizens and those convicted while they were illegally inside the U.S. will not be pardoned. Biden’s official statement did not reference legalization as an option for marijuana, despite public sentiment supporting such an action. Biden did, however, say that Black and Brown people were arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionate rates. He also noted that thousands of people lost employment, housing and educational prospects because of their convictions.

This damage is a symptom of a justice system that is more concerned with punishment than restoration. Victimless crimes, like consuming marijuana, can cost people the opportunities which Biden mentioned because of how this system operates. In the same way that the lives he pardoned will not be completely fixed by this pardon, the harmful effects of this system cannot be undone with something like simple legalization.

That does not mean legalization is unnecessary. Kassandra Fredrique, the head of the Drug Policy Alliance, suggested to NPR that the criminal justice model failed to address the causes for crime. A need for work, healthcare or shelter could push otherwise law-abiding citizens to break the law in search of a solution.

As president over the prison capital of the world, where almost half of all federal inmates are being held on drug charges, one might wonder why Biden hasn’t taken a more supportive stance of marijuana legalization. Not only would that allow for more oversight of marijuana as a product, but it would keep more Americans outside of the prison system. 

Legalizing marijuana would be a net gain for the United States as a society because the resources previously allocated to enforcing marijuana-related laws would be freed up for other uses. 

The taxpayer money allocated to imprisoning and prosecuting those possessing marijuana could be allocated towards more positive uses. Imprisoning people for marijuana-related infractions costs billions of dollars. This money could instead be put back into communities, which would have a much healthier impact than mass incarceration. 

In a 2019 survey, two-thirds of Americans said marijuana use should be legal. It is reasonable to assume that many Americans would appreciate safe, undamaged roads — even if it meant slightly fewer inmates.

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