Now that pot is legal in 33 states and counting, it’s a pretty heady moment for stoner culture. Fans of cannabis can celebrate 4/20 openly and in style in more places than ever before. And even if you’re not in a state that legalized pot, there’s a still a pretty good chance that the cops won’t hassle you as you spend 4/20 doing your thing.
If you’re a white person.
Sorry to bring you down, but that’s the harsh reality. If you love pot AND you’re white, everything is totally awesome these days. In 2017, 81% of cannabis executives were white. Meanwhile, even in states where pot is legal, and even though Black people and white people use pot at similar rates, Black people are still arrested way more often than whites. We love 4/20 and we love legalization, but that’s not OK.
Let’s Be Blunt
Overall, 2018 was a big year for legalization. (Of course, pot is still illegal on the federal level—although increasing numbers of lawmakers are trying to do something about that.) As more and more states just say yes to pot, the cannabis industry is booming—it’s expected to hit $20 billion by 2020.
That kind of money has the power to change minds. Take former Speaker of the House John Boehner. Once “unalterably opposed” to legalizing pot, he’s now a full-time supporter (and investor). To be fair, the country as a whole has shifted its perspective on legalization over the years, with 60% of the public now in favor. For the first-time ever, another survey showed that support is bipartisan. All the declared candidates for president are firmly in the pro-pot camp too.
No doubt about it, that’s good news.
What’s troubling is that the criminal justice system hasn’t kept up with the culture. Even Boehner’s change of heart only goes so far. Regarding the 400,000 people arrested for selling or trafficking pot during his time as Speaker (2011-2015), he said, “The whole criminal justice part of this, frankly, it never crossed my mind." That’s the problem.
Between 2001 and 2010, there were more than 8 million pot arrests (88% for possession). And during that time, a Black person was 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Since then, in states that have legalized cannabis, arrests, as you’d expect, have gone down. Unfortunately, legalization hasn’t done anything to change the racial disparities.
Take a look at Alaska, Colorado, and Washington, DC, all of which have legalized pot. In Alaska, Black people are still being arrested 10 times more often than whites. In DC, they’re arrested 4 times more. In Colorado? Three times.
Let’s be clear: even with increased legalization, hundreds of thousands of people are still being arrested for pot. And most of those people are Black. Black New York City residents, for example, are 8 times more likely to be arrested for pot than whites.
It’s High Time to Make a Change
We’re calling on Congress to expunge prior marijuana convictions and provide pardons/amnesty to anyone whose only crime was possession of cannabis. Cities like San Francisco and Seattle are already doing it. It’s time to take this national.
We also love the approach taken by some big-city prosecutors: they’ve declared that they will no longer be prosecuting pot-possession cases. In some cities they’re even wiping old warrants and convictions from the books.
Want to feel really really good about cannabis? Then let’s make sure that legalization benefits all of us. That’ll turn 4/20 into a day that we all can celebrate.