Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer Editorial: After decades of discriminatory enforcement, it’s high time to rethink marijuana laws |
By pardoning those convicted of simple possession, the president has taken an important step towards ending years of racist treatment.
President Joe Biden has taken the first steps to move beyond more than 50 years of failed drug policy. Earlier this month, the president ordered his administration to begin the process to remove marijuana from the list of most dangerous illicit drugs, which includes heroin and LSD, and effectively eliminate a federal ban. to consume cannabis.
It’s almost time.
Ever since President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970 and launched the War on Drugs, Americans have suffered the consequences, especially people of color. Blacks are six times more likely to be incarcerated for drug trafficking than their white counterparts, even though the two groups use drugs at about the same rate.
The American Civil Liberties Union has called the war on drugs “the new Jim Crow”, a view confirmed by former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman’s admission that the Nixon White House “had two enemies” – anti-Vietnam War activists and African Americans.
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either anti-war or Black,” Ehrlichman said in a 1994 interview with journalist Dan Baum. “But by getting the public to associate hippies with marijuana and black people with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, disrupt their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we mention about drugs? Of course we did.
Ultimately, the War on Drugs put millions of Americans in jail and cost taxpayers billions of dollars to pay for law enforcement and prevention efforts. And through it all, millions of Americans continue to use illegal drugs anyway, with marijuana being by far the most popular. Drug interdiction just didn’t work.
Other efforts to rethink drug laws, such as Philadelphia’s decriminalization campaign, Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, and the legalization of recreational cannabis in New Jersey, have been undermined by federal prohibition. Marijuana’s place on the so-called “Schedule I” list of most dangerous drugs forces cannabis dispensaries to do cash business and confuses regulatory efforts. It also creates obstacles for scientific studies on the drug.
While proponents of maintaining marijuana restrictions have pointed to the potential side effects of heavy marijuana use, such as depression and schizophrenia, it’s partly because of generations of prohibition that we know less than we couldn’t on how cannabis affects the brain.
In addition to signaling a move toward relaxing marijuana prohibition, Biden also granted pardons to those convicted of simple possession — a move that represents the end of decades of racially discriminatory treatment. Despite longstanding usage parity, black adults in Pennsylvania are eight times more likely than white adults to be charged with possession of marijuana.
Like his steps to cancel student loans, invest in infrastructure, support Ukraine, fight inflation and hedge against climate change, Biden’s concern for restorative justice in his pardons is another milestone in his tenure so far. But the job of balancing the scales after decades of failed drug wars is not yet complete.
Pennsylvania lawmakers should follow Biden’s lead and pass the Street-Laughlin bill, a bipartisan cannabis legalization measure focused on fairness and justice — two qualities often rare in a half-century of misguided drug policy.
– Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer