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Racial Equality in Marijuana Pardons Requires State Action

By granting amnesty to Americans federally convicted of marijuana possession, President Joe Biden has partially overturned decades of drug laws that have disproportionately harmed black and Latinx communities. He said that the purpose was to correct the

in the meantime Biden Executive Order It benefits thousands of people by making it easier to find housing, get a job, or apply to college. it doesn’t help Not to mention hundreds of thousands of mostly Black and Hispanic Americans with state convictions for marijuana-related crimes.

Proponents of overhauling the country’s drug laws hope Biden’s pardon will lead state legislators to amnesty and erase petty drug crimes from people’s records. After all, dozens of states. has already decriminalized cannabis and legalized it for a multi-billion dollar recreational and medical use industry that is largely white-owned.

“We know this is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to people suffering from the effects of (past) marijuana bans,” said the nonprofit, which promotes decriminalization. said Maritza Perez, director of federal affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. Safe drug use policy.

The decades-long “war on drugs,” championed by Biden as a U.S. Senator and mirrored by state legislators, has resulted in massive criminalization and an explosion in prison populations. An estimated tens of millions of marijuana-related arrests have been made since 1965, the vast majority resulting from executions by local police and state prosecutors.

But, as many law enforcement officials like to point out, the majority of people serving long prison sentences for marijuana-related crimes are convicted of crimes more serious than possession. scale. Such factors are usually whether the case is transferred to federal territory or to state prosecutors.

Still, reform advocates counter that many of them are not violent drug kingpins.

According to a 2021 AP review of federal and state incarceration data, between 1975 and 2019, the US prison population surged from 240,593 to 1.43 million. About one in five of them was incarcerated for a drug offense, listed as the most serious crime.

The enactment of tougher penalties for crack cocaine, marijuana, and other drugs in the 1990s tripled black and Hispanic incarceration rates by 2000. The white incarceration rate he stayed at doubled.

And despite state legalization or decriminalization of possession up to a certain amount, local law enforcement makes more arrests for drug possession, including marijuana, than for any other crime, according to FBI crime data. continue.

Presidential pardons for the more than 6,500 Americans convicted of federal marijuana possession and the thousands more convicted in Washington state, which is mostly black, are among the few on record nationwide. Just some people. That’s probably why we’ve called on state governors to take similar action against people convicted of state marijuana possession.

“Whites, blacks and browns use marijuana in similar proportions, but blacks and browns are arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionate rates,” Biden said Thursday. Just as you shouldn’t be put in a federal prison just because you have .

The president’s explicit acknowledgment of racial inequality in marijuana enforcement gives drug law reform advocates and convicted individuals an opportunity to push for more remedies against the harm of the war on drugs. is currently watching

Weldon Angelos, who was sentenced to 55 years in prison in a 2003 federal lawsuit for selling $300 worth of marijuana to a classified informant in Utah, knows many who will benefit from the president’s pardon. said. But there are many more who don’t, he said.

“I think this is the first step for[Biden]to do something bigger,” said Angelos, who received a presidential pardon and pardon after serving 13 years in the Obama and Trump administrations. is a drug law reform activist.

Felony cannabis cases like his are also worth considering, Wheldon said. Biden’s pardon doesn’t cover a conviction that he was in possession of marijuana for the purpose of distributing it.

Just as marijuana has been proposed in about 20 states that have decriminalized or legalized it recreationally, enacting a law to clear a person’s federal drug record could criminalize businesses and landlords who do criminal background checks. Even with a federal pardon, he said, Wheldon’s record would still be visible.

“If we really want to unwind the effects of the cannabis war and the racist impact, we have a lot of work to do here,” Weldon said.

Some supporters believe the state should consider erasing more than just marijuana records. I found out that He started using cannabis to deal with his anxiety about becoming a young father and started selling cannabis shortly thereafter.

“I was just trying to make enough money to make sure I had the means to care for my son,” said Chamberlain, 46, from Chicago. “But I fell in love with that lifestyle and graduated from selling cannabis to selling cocaine.”

Chamberlain said he was indicted in multiple states for marijuana possession between the ages of 19 and 25. Chamberlain said he was sentenced to 20 years in prison before the sentence was reduced to his 14 years under the Fair Sentencing Act, which narrowed the sentencing gap between crack and powder forms of cocaine. He was released ten years later.

Chamberlain won’t benefit from Biden’s marijuana pardon, but he advocates for the removal of what he calls “permanent punishments” such as difficulty finding jobs and housing associated with past drug offenses. I see it as an opportunity. .

“What Biden is starting is a process of righting the wrongs of the war on drugs,” he said.

Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis use in 2012, although several states had already legalized medical use. According to the National Marijuana Law Reform Organization, 37 states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories now allow medical use of cannabis. Nineteen states, Washington DC and two territories, have legalized recreational use.

In next month’s midterm elections, voters in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota will decide whether to allow adult recreational cannabis use. This is reason enough for all states to consider massive pardons and expunges, civil rights leaders say.

“How fair is it to legalize marijuana now and tax it to use state tax dollars to fund the government and forget all those who are sitting in prison or who were incarcerated when it was illegal? Is that the case?” NAACP President Derrick Johnson told The Associated Press. “All individuals charged with marijuana crimes should be pardoned, especially in states that have legalized marijuana.”

Richard Wallace, executive director of Equity and Transformation, a social and economic justice advocacy group in Chicago, said the state’s amnesty would have cost him financially in the racist drug war. He said it must be accompanied by some form of compensation for the people.

“We should consider building a lasting reparations campaign around cannabis legalization,” he said. “Often we end up just fighting for pardons and expungements, leaving out the economic component.”


Aaron Morrison is a New York-based member of AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter. https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

https://www.ksat.com/news/politics/2022/10/08/racial-equity-in-marijuana-pardons-requires-states-action/ Racial Equality in Marijuana Pardons Requires State Action

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