Racial equity in marijuana pardons requires states’ action after Biden pardons

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By pardoning Americans with federal convictions for marijuana possession, President Joe Biden said he aims to partially redress decades of anti-drug laws that disproportionately harmed black and Latino communities.

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While Biden’s executive action would make it easier for thousands of people to find housing, get a job, or apply to college, it does nothing to help the hundreds of thousands of mostly black and Hispanic Americans who still face state sentences for marijuana. are burdened with the burden of felony-related crimes, not to mention millions more, with other drug offenses on their records.

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SeeBiden asks agencies to review marijuana classification, pardon former federal-possession offenses

Advocates for changes to the nation’s drug laws hope Biden’s pardon prompts state lawmakers to pardon and remove minor drug offenses from people’s records.

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After all, he says, dozens of states have already decriminalized cannabis and legalized it for the multi-billion dollar recreational and medicinal use industry that is predominantly white-owned.

“We know this is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to people who have suffered from the effects of (past) marijuana prohibition,” said Maritza Pérez, director of federal affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit. For profit organization pushing for decriminalization. and safe drug use policies.

The decades-long “war on drugs”, a broad federal legislative agenda that Biden championed as a US senator and which was echoed by state lawmakers, led to rampant criminalization and the explosion of prison populations.

An estimated tens of millions of people have had marijuana-related arrests on their records since 1965, most of them stemming from enforcement by local police and state prosecutors.

But as many law enforcement officials like to point out, the majority of people serving long sentences for marijuana-related offenses were convicted of more serious charges than possession, such as a weapons count or mass selling drugs. Or the intended scale of traffic. Such factors are generally how a case goes in federal territory versus state prosecution.

Still, reform advocates say many of them are not violent drug kingpins.

A 2021 Associated Press review of federal and state incarceration data showed that between 1975 and 2019, the US prison population increased from 240,593 to 1.43 million. Of those, nearly 1 in 5 were imprisoned with a drug offense listed as their most serious offence.

The passage of harsher penalties for crack cocaine, marijuana and other drugs in the 1990s helped triple black and Hispanic incarceration rates by the year 2000. The white incarceration rate only doubled.

And according to FBI crime data, local law enforcement agencies continue to make more arrests for drug possession, including marijuana, than for any other criminal offense, despite state legalization or criminalization of possession to a certain extent. Huh.

See Cannabis stocks rocket for a record day after Biden burns fuse

The presidential pardons of more than 6,500 Americans with convictions of federal marijuana possession, as well as thousands with convictions in the majority-black city of Washington, hold only a slice of those nationwide on record.

That’s why he has called on state governors to take similar steps for those in state marijuana possession.

“While white and black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted and convicted,” Biden said Thursday. “Just as no one should be in a federal prison because of marijuana possession, so no one should be in a local prison or state prison.”

With the president’s clear acceptance of racial inequality in marijuana enforcement, with drug law reform advocates and defectors now see an opening to pursue more measures to make up for the damages of the War on Drugs.

Weldon Angelos, whose 2003 federal case sentenced him to 55 years in prison for selling $300 worth of marijuana to a secret informant in Utah, said he knows many people who could benefit from a presidential pardon. Will happen. But there are many others who will not, he said.

“I feel like this (Biden) is the first step in something big,” said Angelos, who, after serving 13 years in prison, received presidential pardons and pardons during the Obama and Trump administrations. He is now a drug law reform activist.

Weldon said felony cases like his also deserve consideration. Biden’s pardon does not cover those convicted of possessing marijuana with intent to distribute, which could further widen the scope of those seeking relief by the thousands.

He said creating a law that clears a person’s federal drug record, as introduced in the nearly two dozen states where marijuana is legalized recreationally or illegally, would require companies to conduct criminal background checks, he said. and would make punishment invisible to landlords, he said. Even after the federal pardon, Weldon’s record is still visible, he said.

“There’s a lot more that needs to be done here, if we really want to reduce the effects of war on cannabis and the racist effects,” Weldon said.

Some advocates believe the country should consider clearing more than just marijuana records. In the 1990s, Marlon Chamberlain was a college student in Iowa when he learned that his then-girlfriend was pregnant with his eldest son. He began using cannabis to cope with the anxiety of becoming a young father and, soon after, began selling the drug.

“My idea was that I would try to make enough money and have the means to take care of my son,” said Chamberlain, 46, who lives in Chicago. “But I got addicted to the lifestyle and went from selling weed to selling cocaine.”

Chamberlain said he had multiple state charges for marijuana possession between the ages of 19 and 25. But it was a federal case for crack cocaine, in which officers used his prior marijuana arrest to escalate the seriousness of his case, which affected his life.

Chamberlain was sentenced to 20 years in prison before reducing the sentence to 14 years under the Fair Sensing Act, which reduced the disparity of punishment between crack and powdered forms of cocaine. He was released after 10 years.

Even though he won’t benefit from Biden’s marijuana pardon, Chamberlain sees it as an opportunity to advocate for the abolition of “permanent penalties,” such as difficulties finding jobs or housing that come with a previous drug offense.

“What Biden is taking is a process of correcting the wrongs of the drug war,” he said.

Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize the recreational use of cannabis in 2012, although medical use was already legal in several states.

According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, 37 states, the District of Columbia and four US territories now allow the medical use of cannabis. Nineteen states, DC and two territories have legalized its recreational use.

And during next month’s midterm elections, voters in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota will decide whether to allow recreational adult use of cannabis. Civil rights leaders say this is reason enough for every state to look into mass pardons and expulsions.

“How fair is it that you would legalize marijuana now, use those state taxes to fund the government, but forget all the people who sat in prisons or were imprisoned when it was illegal? ?” NAACP President Derrick Johnson told the AP.

“All individuals who have been charged with marijuana offenses need to be pardoned, especially in states that have legalized marijuana.”

Richard Wallace, executive director of Equity and Transformation, a social and economic justice advocacy group in Chicago, said state pardons should also extend to those who suffered financially under the racially discriminatory drug war.

“We need to think about building sustainable reparations campaigns centered around cannabis legalization,” he said. “I think many times we just fight for pardons and expulsions, and we leave out the economic component.”

Credit: www.marketwatch.com /

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