Why Just Legalizing Cannabis Isn’t Enough

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For most people who work as cannabis activists, the big push for cannabis legalization isn’t just on getting a bill passed that ends incarceration. It’s also on changing the way the state handles those with previous cannabis legal issues, especially in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs.

With public opinion so strongly in favor of legalization, many now view it is only a matter of time before more states and possibly even the federal government begin to adjust their stance on cannabis. Now that the earliest legalization measures are in place and operating more or less smoothly, activists and politicians alike can look at the practical impact of different policies and see where there may be certain shortfalls.

Social justice is one area where cannabis legalization has floundered in many states. Sure, there are states like Massachusetts where activists are leading the way by taking a proactive stance on social justice and minority inclusion in cannabis entrepreneurship and regulation, but more states have failed to act on social justice needs when passing cannabis law reforms. These days, when states introduce legislation, they are likely to include some degree of social justice awareness in their language.

From allowing people to seek expungements for previous convictions to ensuring a certain amount of local business control for recreational markets, different states have had different ideas about how to make legalization more fair and just. The truth is that as long as there are still people in prison or unable to secure good jobs because of a previous cannabis conviction, real justice has not been achieved.

Prohibition doesn’t just impact the people who go to jail. It impacts their families, who pay for their lawyers. It impacts their children and spouses, who lose out on years of social and financial advancement opportunities. It impacts whole communities where people are more likely to get arrested for cannabis than others just because of the color of their skin.

Comprehensive legal reform is critical, as is an awareness of the broad and often lasting effects of incarceration on not just the individual, but their entire family. Losing a parent, even temporarily, to incarceration, is a form of intergenerational trauma that can have lifelong consequences. From lost educational opportunities economic status, there are many areas of life directly impacted by cannabis criminalization. It’s time we all started looking at the bigger picture, which has some difficult implications for everyone in the cannabis community.

For previous Ladybud articles about social justice, click here.