Progressive movements that paved the way for gay marriage, voting protections for Black men and women, and other now-irrefutable rights are poised to free America from the notion that responsible marijuana use should constitute a crime.
Through several successful Nov. 3 ballot measures, voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota legalized recreational marijuana use while voters in Mississippi legalized medical marijuana. With the new tally, 15 states now allow the sale and use of marijuana.
With the exception of a few states, including Texas, Americans are rejecting a failed and costly war on drugs that has ravished minority communities and driven the needless incarcerations of nonviolent offenders. A 2019 Pew Research Poll found that two-thirds of Americans support legalizing marijuana while only 8% of poll respondents thought marijuana should be illegal under any circumstance. Support of marijuana reforms is stronger among Democrats (78%) than Republicans (44%), the poll found.
While district attorneys in Dallas and other counties have taken steps to deprioritize the prosecutions of low levels of marijuana possession, Gov. Greg Abbott and state leadership show no sign of joining the nationwide effort to reform marijuana laws.
Last year in Texas, following the legalization of CBD (the non-psychoactive agent found in marijuana and hemp plants), many county prosecutors began dropping criminal charges for marijuana and hemp possession charges that would require costly tests to determine the percentage of CBD and THC (the psychoactive agent in marijuana) present. Those tests can require up to six months to complete.
Abbott issued a letter reminding district attorneys that “marijuana has not been decriminalized in Texas,” among other reprimands.
Marijuana law reforms are critical for reversing decades of societal damage that resulted from discriminatory laws that criminalize poverty and target minority communities. Texas had the highest number of marijuana possession arrests in 2018, according to a recent report by the ACLU. Black men and women are arrested for marijuana possession at more than twice the rate of whites.
In 2019, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office accepted misdemeanor criminal charges (possession under two ounces) against 3,767 men and women. Of that number, 52% of the alleged offenders were Black, even though the Black community accounts for only 15% of Tarrant County’s population. When Latinx defendants are added in, persons of color accounted for 63% of local marijuana charges. The Brookings Institution, an American think tank, found little variation in marijuana use by race, which leaves over-policing as a likely explanation for the Tarrant County numbers.
Those nonviolent offenses can lead to monetary bail amounts of up to $1,000, according to Tarrant County figures. Bail monetizes freedom. Individuals who cannot pony up the money remain in Tarrant County Jail, where 10 inmates have died in custody this year alone, for weeks or months on end.
Deaths from drug overdoses have reached alarming levels in this country, and those casualties are largely being driven by pharmaceutical corporations that rake in billions in profits each year and are protected by politicians financially beholden to the corporations.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 31,000 drug-related deaths in the United States resulted from synthetic opioids in 2018. Last year, reported deaths from drug overdoses reached a record 72,000 with opioids (synthetic and non-synthetic) accounting for more than two-thirds of the total deaths, according to the CDC.
As with any drug, health-related problems like lung disease, addiction, and others can result from marijuana use. Proponents of marijuana reform say the benefits — tax revenue, reduced alcohol consumption, anxiety control, joie de vivre — far outweigh the potential costs, and 15 states have now codified that belief into law.