April 20 is national cannabis culture day. To people who love marijuana, it’s often a playful opportunity to celebrate. To the media, it’s often a time to make jokes or roll eyes.
It’s time to get real about marijuana policy, and the 650,000 people still arrested each year for marijuana offenses in the United States.
While most white people have gotten away with pot smoking, even before marijuana was made legal in 10 states and the District of Columbia, black and brown communities have been devastated. Black and brown people use marijuana at the same rates as white people, but are arrested for that use several times as often. In some U.S. counties, nearly half of all arrests are marijuana-related.
These arrests are not only a waste of law enforcement resources – over $3 billion is spent each year on marijuana enforcement alone – but have ruined people’s lives. An arrest and conviction can mean huge barriers to employment, public housing and loans. It can also mean incarceration and deportation. Marijuana prohibition has also been an easy excuse for over-policing, including surveillance and frequent stops that lead to not only arrests, but also police seizure of property, and in some cases, deadly encounters. This is far from a party for low-income communities who have been most impacted.
Take the case of Bernard Noble, for example, who was released on parole last year after spending eight years in prison in Louisiana for possessing two joints. Or that of Colyssa Stapleton in New York, whose daughter was removed from her custody for months following a false marijuana possession arrest.
Meanwhile, states that have legalized marijuana openly promote 420 visitors guides for anyone over 21 to enjoy marijuana-friendly hotels, tours and even classes. These vast disparities in the way that police treat people who smoke marijuana