According to the federal government more than 117 million people in the United States have used marijuana. It is time to end the war on marijuana and put in place legal adult use of marijuana.

Progress is being made in many states on legalizing adult use of marijuana and regulating the marijuana market. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have either legalized or decriminalized the adult possession and use of marijuana. Eleven of those states have legalized marijuana and regulated cannabis sales. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of marijuana.

There are currently over 40,000 people incarcerated for violations of marijuana laws. And, according to the most recent report of the annual FBI Uniform Crime Reports, there were 663,367 marijuana arrests in 2018. 608,776 of those were for possession of marijuana. This is down from 734,497 marijuana arrests in 2000 of which 646,042 (40.9%) were for possession. But in 2018 marijuana arrests had risen for the third year in a row. African Americans are arrested for violating marijuana possession laws at nearly four times the rates of white people, yet both groups consume marijuana at roughly the same rates.

While we are making progress the federal government continues to prevent the end of the prohibition of marijuana. It is time for change on a national level. The federal government should legalize adult use under federal law, and remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act so it can be used medically. It should remove restrictions on banks not being able to work with marijuana businesses.

The rights of those who work in marijuana commerce need to be protected. The marijuana workforce employs over 240,000 workers across 33 states and four territories, and generated $1.9 billion in state and local taxes in 2019. Currently, because cannabis is illegal under federal law, workers in the cannabis industry cannot file IRS tax returns, which undermines their access to Medicare and Social Security. They are unable to apply for unemployment and other work-related benefits. And, they have been excluded from the COVID-19 relief bill. These workers cannot use the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or federal labor laws to protect their rights. Legalization will ensure these workers are protected by federal law.

When it comes to other drugs, I favor decriminalizing possession for personal use based on the Portuguese model, which has been very successful since it was instituted in 2001. Portugal takes a health-centered approach. Instead of charging people possessing illicit drugs for personal use with a criminal offense, they receive a summons to meet with a three-person panel consisting of a lawyer, a doctor, and a social worker. The panel works with the person to find what can help, such as drug treatment, counseling, and/or employment. This health-oriented program has led to a radical reduction in overdoses, drug-related crime, and drug use itself. We need to take a public health approach to all drugs that is based on effective harm reduction strategies that have been successful in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, preventing overdose deaths, and reducing drug abuse.

It is time to end the war on drugs and repair the damage done to communities by the drug war.

A Sensible Marijuana Policy Corrects Past Errors and Looks to the Future

The war on marijuana has caused tremendous damage. When we end the marijuana war we need to do so not only to create a policy that will work for the future but one that corrects the mistakes of the past. Some of the essential elements of a sensible marijuana policy includes:

  • Repeal criminal laws for marijuana offenses.
  • Remove marijuana from the Schedules of the Controlled Substances Act so it can be used medically.
  • Allow people to grow their own marijuana without any taxation.
  • Tax marijuana like any other commodity without a special marijuana tax.
  • Do not allow the liquor, tobacco, pharmaceutical and Big Ag industries, and corporations like Monsanto, to engage in the marijuana market.
  • Prevent marijuana oligopolies with caps on limits of market share.

When marijuana is legalized we need to also put in place policies that repair the damage done by the war on marijuana. All nonviolent marijuana offenders should be released from prison. The records of people arrested on marijuana charges need to be expunged so they are not handicapped in seeking employment, education, and housing.

There has been tremendous damage done to individuals, families and communities by abusive marijuana enforcement that has been racially unfair. A truth and reconciliation commission should be created to gather information on the damage that has been done and report on the impact of mass arrests and incarceration for marijuana offenses. This commission should make recommendations on how to make reparations for this damage after hearing from people in communities that were targeted by law enforcement. As a first step toward repairing the damage, people who were arrested or convicted of marijuana offenses should be given preference to work in legal marijuana commerce.

Revenues generated from marijuana taxes should be used to uplift communities that have been hit hardest by the war on drugs. These funds should not be used for law enforcement but for grants to entrepreneurs of color, and aiding businesses and communities hit hardest by the drug war.

State Legal Marijuana Laws Work

The 11 states that have legalized marijuana have shown the laws work. These states have raised billions of dollars in tax revenue and saved billions in law enforcement. There has not been an increase in marijuana use by adults or youth and there has not been an increase in traffic accidents.

I have been an advocate of legal marijuana for many years including my campaigns for governor against Andrew Cuomo. In those campaigns, I called for marijuana to be legalized, taxed, and regulated and for industrial hemp to be legal in agriculture. Regulation should include encouraging minority, women, small, and cooperative businesses and exclude big pharma, liquor, tobacco, and agribusiness. While marijuana should be taxed, it should be taxed at the normal sales tax. People should be allowed to grow marijuana not for trade or sale without any taxation.

While I am pleased Governor Cuomo is finally supporting legalization he has put forward a bill that has serious deficiencies. These shortcomings include not allowing home grown marijuana and outrageously high taxation rates. He creates an Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) where he makes all the appointments. The OCM decides what to charge for licenses, who is eligible, and most of the rules. The marijuana market should not be a private fiefdom of the governor. This approach is a recipe for abuse and corruption.

Eleven states and Washington, DC have legalized adult (aged 21 and older) personal use of marijuana: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington state.

These 11 states earn more than $1 billion in tax revenue each year. The top-earning marijuana tax revenue state in 2018 was California, which generated $345 million since legalizing marijuana sales in January that year. Washington state collected $319 million in 2018 and passed the $1 billion mark [in 2018] after sales started in July 2014. Colorado was the first state to legalize marijuana and has already raised more than $1 billion in tax revenue.

A 2019 study found that legalization of marijuana has little positive or negative impact on the use of marijuana, according to a new working paper by researchers from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Harvard University and Western Carolina University. In fact, more liberal marijuana laws have had “minimal impact” on marijuana use, other substance use, alcohol consumption, or crime rates, the study found.

Hawkins and Sanders Favor Legalization, Trump and Biden Oppose It

President Trump has continued the drug war policies of previous administrations. He is now using bogus narco-trafficking charges against President Maduro of Venezuela as part of his effort to replace that government with a US-friendly government.

The two leading Democratic candidates for president had very different positions. Senator Sanders pledged to legalize cannabis by executive order within his first 100 days in office. Former Vice President Biden opposes legal marijuana and has a long history of being a leading drug warrior in the United States.

As chair of the Judiciary Committee, Biden put in place laws that have resulted in mass incarceration, especially of people of color, as well as a multi-billion dollar drug war bureaucracy that fuels mass arrests.

In a town hall meeting last November he showed how out of touch he is with reality when he claimed regarding marijuana “there has not been nearly enough evidence acquired as to whether or not it’s a gateway drug.” In reality, the gateway theory has been a long disproven theory.

During the 1980s Biden was either the ranking member or chairman of the Judiciary Committee when Congress passed extreme laws escalating the drug war, including crime control acts in 1984 and 1986 that put in place mandatory sentencing. The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which he sponsored, included a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine that led to a massive increase in the incarceration of Black people, with as little as 5 grams of cocaine leading to a mandatory five years in prison.

Biden was the sponsor of the RAVE Act, a broadly worded law used to criminalize dance parties that could lead to 20 years in prison for the promoter if a few people at the event had MDMA or glow sticks were used at the event.

Biden also led the effort to create the unnecessary drug czar position and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which became a source of propaganda to promote harsher drug laws. The law specifically said the office could not promote drug legalization.

He continued to add to mass incarceration by leading the effort for the 1994 crime law that included mandatory life sentences for repeat offenders, capital punishment for some drug crimes, and increased funding for prisons by nearly $10 billion.

Biden bears major responsibility for why the United States with only 5 percent of the world’s population has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

It is time to legalize marijjana and end the war on drugs. Drug abuse should be treated as a health problem, not a criminal problem. Police are not equipped to handle health issues or addiction. We need to put health officials in charge of drug policy and allow adults to grow, consume, and legally purchase marijuana.

Howie Hawkins 2020

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