Marijuana Legalization in the United States, Continued Imprisonment, and Felony Bans in the Cannabis Industry

Monday, 11 July 2016: 16:20
Location: Seminar 52 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Beverly THOMPSON, Siena College, USA
We are facing the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition in the United States. After eighty plus years of illegality, both Colorado and Washington states legalized cannabis in 2012 through the use of ballot initiatives. In 2015, voters again legalized it in Washington DC, Alaska and Oregon. The 2016 presidential election looks to have at least five states putting forth similar ballot initiatives. Public and legislative opinion appears to be making a sharp shift in favor of legalization, and the Drug Enforcement Agency is in retreat, facing major budget slashing in the wake of continued institutional scandals and the changing social tide.

Nothing has been more devastating to the black community than the so-called War on Drugs, which has decimated impoverished communities. Now that the end of marijuana prohibition is on the horizon, how can the social penalties against such populations be corrected? Prisoners of the Drug War continue to languish in jails and prisons, even for marijuana crimes that are now legal in some states, because there is no application for retroactive ameliorative relief, like there is in other countries. Further, once these drug felons are released from prison, they are barred for life from working in the legal cannabis industry, more completely banned than violent felons. A social reparations policy would encourage these emerging industries to employ those with experience in this arena—drug felons—but the opposite is the case. And the institutional racism of the legal cannabis industry is not limited to felons; because the market is oriented towards individuals with significant class privilege and liquid capital. Indeed, people of color barely own any cannabis dispensaries in the states where the business is legal. At this beginning of the cannabis industry, we can see that racism is being institutionalized through these policies.