Higher Education-2019

Legalizing Marijuana Would Benefit Communities of Color

Courtesy of Chi Hack Night

With Gov. J.B. Pritzker in office, the legalization of recreational cannabis use is quickly becoming a reality in the state of Illinois. 

Pritzker’s goal is to legalize, tax and regulate the sales of recreational cannabis in the state. This is definitely an issue that has the support of voters and residents of Illinois. In a poll conducted two years ago, 66 percent of people showed their support for the recreational use of cannabis, according to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. 

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-14th, has been a huge advocate for the legalization of recreational cannabis use. Cassidy is a firm believer that cannabis prohibition is bad public policy. She also worked hard to pass a 2015 decriminalization bill turning possession of small amounts of cannabis into a civil ticket rather than a criminal offense.

Sharone Mitchell, the deputy director of the Illinois Justice Project, a non-profit organization that engages in criminal justice reform efforts that promote policies which will make communities safer, said legalization as a way for communities of color to experience equity especially when they’ve been negatively affected by the drug policy.

The war on drugs has had a disproportionately negative effect on communities of color. Nationally, African Americans are nearly four times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis possession, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

In the state of Illinois the ACLU reported that African Americans were about eight times more likely than white people to be arrested for possession of cannabis.

Three Chicago-area lawmakers are fighting to make sure communities of color benefit from legalization. Lawmakers are committed to a “three-legged stool” of social equity, said Kareem Kenyatta of the Marijuana Policy Project. One of those three tiers includes the automatic expungement of cannabis-related offenses, which covers everything from misdemeanors to serious felonies.

Automatic expungement will positively serve people of color who were arrested for possession of cannabis. Possession can lead to a misdemeanor or a felony in Illinois. A minor misdemeanor for cannabis possession can ruin someone’s life if they face the collateral consequences of criminal conviction, such as serving jail time, probation and fines. A convicted felon of cannabis possession can lose gun ownership rights, be excluded from working in certain job fields and face difficulty in securing a home. 

While automatic expungement will benefit people of color in Illinois, the tax revenues from the sale of cannabis will benefit the entire state. If the state were to legalize recreational cannabis use, Illinois would garner more than $500 million in tax revenue, according to a November 2018 report by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute. 

This money can create more jobs, boost the economy and benefit K-12 public schools. Back in November, almost 90 percent of Chicago voters said they would approve the revenue from cannabis sales to help fund schools. 

Recreational cannabis use shouldn’t be a crime. While there are repercussions for its use, it has led to the villainization of people of color. The war on drugs has created an inequality in the justice system which has led to the racial discrimination by the law enforcement. 

People of color are more likely to be arrested than white people for committing the same crime. The legalization of recreational cannabis use will help communities of color and lead to a more equitable justice system. 

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