Those who live in states that have legalized marijuana hopefully had a blast yesterday, but we also hope they took the time to remember to think of those incarcerated for marijuana.
The last few years have been great for marijuana policy reform, especially 2016. Recreational marijuana is now legal for adult recreational use in eight states, plus Washington, D.C; medical marijuana is legal in 28 states and D.C.
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However, not all people were be able to celebrate 4/20 or facilitate 4/20 celebrations by selling marijuana without fear of legal consequences. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, last year 26.1 percent of people who suffered federal drug offenses for marijuana were sentenced to at least a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. This statistic is disturbing when one considers that according to a Gallup Poll in October of 2016, 60 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization. This is the highest level of public support for legalizing marijuana yet, but people are still incarcerated and given criminal records for marijuana drug offenses.
A criminal record because of a drug offense can haunt the person for the rest of their life—affecting housing, employment, and student loan eligibility. The criminalization of people through drug offenses does not affect everyone equally. Institutionalized racism has long relied on marijuana to incarcerate massive numbers of people especially in Black and Latinx communities. This is despite roughly equal rates of marijuana use across racial and ethnic lines.
The war on drugs and the criminalization of marijuana is also used as a tool to wage war against immigrant communities. Simple marijuana possession was the fourth most common cause of deportation for any offense in 2013 and more than 13,000 people were deported in 2012 and 2013 for marijuana possession.
California is one state that is pioneering legislation to make sure that their state laws are respected. California’s AB 1578 just passed the public safety committee and is now set to go to the full assembly floor. This legislation will protect Californians who are operating lawfully under California state laws. AB 1578 would make it so that absent a court order, local and state agencies, including regulators and law enforcement, will not assist in any federal enforcement against state authorized medical cannabis or commercial or noncommercial marijuana activity.
While you responsibly celebrate 4/20, please think of those who cannot do the same and then take action by signing this petition. Let them know that you support marijuana legalization for recreational and medicinal purposes and that the federal prohibition on marijuana must end.
Virginia Purcell is a media intern with the Drug Policy Alliance.