Wednesday, March 25, 2020
At Brookings, Makada Henry-Nickie and John Hudak have this interesting new brief as part of its “Policy 2020” series titled “It is time for a Cannabis Opportunity Agenda.” Here is the paper’s executive summary:
The 2020 election season will be a transformative time for cannabis policy in the United States, particularly as it relates to racial and social justice. Candidates for the White House and members of Congress have put forward ideas, policy proposals, and legislation that have changed the conversation around cannabis legalization. The present-day focus on cannabis reform highlights how the War on Drugs affected targeted communities and how reform could ameliorate some of those wrongs. The national conversation on cannabis stands at a pivotal inflection point that provides policymakers and legislators with an extraordinary opportunity to establish a policy context wherein inclusive economic opportunities can thrive in tandem with responsible investments to redress longstanding harms.
When Congress works to remedy a discriminatory past or to rectify decades of institutionalized bias, it has an obligation to thoroughly consider implicit and explicit hurdles to equity. Nowhere is this deliberation more critical than in drug policy reform. For decades, the criminalization of drugs led to foreclosed opportunities for people of color who were disproportionately victimized by unequal criminal enforcement. In 2013, police officers were 3.73 times more likely to arrest people of color for cannabis possession than whites. Arrest disparities were even more egregious in some communities where Blacks were 8.3 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession. The racist roots of the War on Drugs inflicted significant collateral damage on minority groups, saddling young men and women of color with drug convictions — often before age 30 — and setting them on a course of institutionalized disadvantage because of the crippling, collateral consequences of criminal records.
Today, amidst a thriving state-legal cannabis industry, the same people hurt most by the drug war face the greatest barriers to participating in the emerging cannabis economy. As elected officials consider how to reform the nation’s cannabis laws and rectify these serious socioeconomic and racial issues, they must erase any ambiguity about the protections, corrective actions, and inclusive opportunities intended to reverse the generation-long ills of the War on Drugs. We argue that 2020 is an opportune moment to design a comprehensive pragmatic Cannabis Opportunity Agenda: a set of policies that addresses the social harms of marijuana prohibition and seeks to rehabilitate impacted communities with a focus on equity, opportunity, and inclusion.