Criminal Justice Reform: Essential To Cannabis Legalization
Note – The original post was published by Erik Range, CEO ART420 LLC + Board Chair at Minorities for Medical Marijuana on LinkedIn.
Much is made about the impact the alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries have had on the movement toward cannabis legalization. And their reasons for doing so. However, very little is made of the impact the Prison Industrial Complex has had on the reform of this country’s archaic criminal justice laws and how that too has hindered the cannabis legalization movement.
As best as I can discern, the Prison Industry was among the first to profit in the cannabis industry. Albeit an illegal industry, it was an industry nonetheless. Of course, the argument can be made that because it was illegal it was not an industry at all. But I would simply refer you to the infamous Edmondson v. Commissioner which led to the cannabis industry’s beloved/begrudged Tax Code 280E. I think it fair to say if the government wants their cut and has rules for what can be and cannot be deducted we are dealing with what amounts to an industry. That is beside the point however!
Criminal Justice Reform and Legalization
The Prison Industry has deployed considerable resources over decades at the federal, state and local levels. Doing so has ensured that laws, policies and practices remain favorable to their bottom line. States like Louisiana actually pay local law enforcement agencies based on occupancy levels in jails and prisons. Countless taxpayer dollars have gone toward maintaining and expanding this system which provides cheap labor for private companies. The Cannabis Industry would be cautioned not to ignore the elephant in the room, for it would do so at its own peril. Criminal justice reform cannot be decoupled from cannabis legalization, medical or adult use.
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Many advocates working to reform cannabis laws across the country can easily demonstrate their understanding of the disparities faced by African American and Hispanic males resulting from the Drug War. Thanks to the ACLU report it is no longer a secret that African Americans are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for cannabis possession than their White counterparts. Few, however, have integrated policy recommendations or programmatic initiatives into their platform to address these disparities.
The famous author/orator James Baldwin once concluded a speech with the following (paraphrasing) “Until the country recognizes that African Americans are not wards of the country or object of missionary charity but apart of the people who built this country. Until this moment, there is scarcely any hope for the American Dream, for those who are not allowed to participate in it by their very existence will wreck it.”
The same will hold true for the cannabis industry which has been built on the backs of African Americans and Hispanics. If those who built the industry are not allowed to participate in it, they by their very existence will wreck it. I reiterate that you cannot have a sustainable cannabis industry or a successful reform movement without a firm commitment to criminal justice reform.
Decriminalization is a necessary step, but by no means is it a final step. Even under such policies we have seen arrest rates for African Americans and Hispanics continue to increase. Only full legalization offers communities of color the protection needed. Yet any cannabis reform policy that does not simultaneously address the grand contradiction of a legal cannabis industry only threatens our ability to realize the possibility of what this industry can become.