Are people affected by cannabis prohibition being forgotten?
When it comes to cannabis reform, we’ve come a long way. In the last decade, 23 states have passed laws to legalize marijuana fully. A total of 38 states have approved medical cannabis.
Most Americans can consume the plant without fear of retribution. With widespread access and stigmas quickly fading, it’s easy to forget that many are still suffering due to cannabis prohibition.
Millions of people have been jailed for possession since cannabis was placed on the Schedule I narcotic list over 50 years ago. While those numbers are steadily declining, there are still thousands of charges each year.
According to the Barker Institute, there were over 300,000 arrests for cannabis possession in 2020 alone. Last Prisoner Project, a non-profit dedicated to helping free those incarcerated for cannabis offenses, estimates there are roughly 40,000 people currently in jail for non-violent marijuana-related crimes.
Many people applauded President Biden’s pardon of 6,500 individuals convicted of cannabis possession at the federal level in 2022, and his call for individual states to follow suit. Some states that have legalized cannabis have included expungement in legislation, but it’s not always guaranteed.
The long-term impact of a cannabis conviction can be devastating. Difficulties securing gainful employment, safe housing, and federal student aid are just a few of the obstacles people with criminal records face. These barriers create a cycle of poverty that often lasts for generations.
The cost of cannabis prohibition may be relatively unknown to many as the country inches further toward federal legalization. Future generations may never know the pain of being separated from their families or know a loved one who suffered due to criminalization.
For those of you who enjoy cannabis freely, it’s important to honor those who did not have this luxury in the past, as well as the people today who still await the opportunity. Living somewhere where the plant is legal is a true gift and should not be taken for granted.
Restorative justice is a work in progress and we all have the responsibility to advocate for what’s right.