Why isn’t cannabis legal?

As we speak, almost 50,000 people are incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses. For most, their charges include low-level possession, crimes often subject to minimum sentencing guidelines. If you want to read about the inequity of that facet of our criminal justice system, you can check out our blog from last year. Although mandatory minimum laws are largely illegal now, the sheer size of the cannabis-related incarcerated population demands our attention.

What’s worse is that people are incarcerated while the legal cannabis industry is booming.

Last year, it was estimated that the U.S. cannabis industry was worth $61 billion. Hundreds of dispensaries and corporations are profiting from the newly legalized industry, albeit state by state. And right now, state by state is the only avenue for legalizing cannabis. The White House has made it clear, over several administrations, that it doesn’t intend to remove marijuana from its list of “Schedule 1 Drugs,” or those not considered to boast any research potential. This is all it would take to swiftly fix our system of overincarceration due to marijuana-related offenses – but it hasn’t happened.

It’s time we federally legalize the recreational use of cannabis.

For starters, doing so would generate revenue for the government. When you make a product legal, governments can tax it. States that have done so, like Colorado, have seen huge contributions to state revenue. In 2020, Colorado brought in $387,480,110 in marijuana-related taxes and fees. The opportunity here is tremendous, especially for those talking heads and elected officials so concerned with sacrificing equity for supposed frugality. A recent study by New Frontier even suggests federally legal marijuana could rake in $105.6 billion in federal tax revenue by 2025. Just imagine the possibilities if the White House simply changes its mind on legalizing cannabis.

Additionally, it would clear the names of those incarcerated for doing something that might be legal across nearby state borders. In addition to letting people out of prison for low-level crimes, federal legalization would also reduce recidivism. The premise is simple: The less time people spend incarcerated, the less likely they’ll return to incarceration. This would give families once-in-a-lifetime chances to achieve economic prosperity. A part of this discussion we don’t discuss enough is the purely economic impact of locking 50,000 people up for low-level offenses. Legalization can help low-income families struggling to survive.

Lastly, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana would be a boon for voting rights. Right now, several states boast laws preventing felons from voting, even after release. These laws are in effect across the entire justice system, no matter what the charge is. The only thing that matters to these states is the length of time served. For many, low-level marijuana offenses meet this oppressive threshold. If marijuana were federally legal, the corresponding boost in voting rights would be among the largest in our history, mostly concentrated in the Black and Brown community.

In short, legalizing the recreational use of cannabis would be a step forward for our economy and voting rights. Even further, it’s the right thing to do. The phony war on drugs of the 1980s is responsible for cannabis’ currently illegality. We now know this initiative was a war on Black and Brown communities more than anything else. In the name of equality, it’s time we reverse this terrible policy. It’s time to federally legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

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