I am not a marijuana smoker, so I could not care less about whether or not it is commercially available for recreational use. It is not a smell that I care for and it is not a high that I have particularly enjoyed in the past. However, at the end of the day it is much safer than the Bourbon that I drink, and I figure that as long you’re not harming anyone else, then what the Hell, do what you want. Or at least that is what my inner libertarian tells me.
It is that libertarian side of my brain that caused me to celebrate the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or MORE Act, passed by the House of Representatives this week to decriminalize marijuana.
However, my happiness at a victory for freedom soon faded as I began to think about who would profit from decriminalization. It isn’t going to be the local weed guy; it is going to be those who have the capital to invest in commercial farming and distribution. Your neighborhood weed dealer isn’t going to have the means to pay for licensing or buy a store in which he can put a dispensary. More importantly, the stigma attached to him because of what he does for a living will remain. Meanwhile, rich white businessmen who have been buying and consuming weed (probably from that same local dealer) will have both the means to farm, distribute and pay for licensing without being regarded as anything other than a stereotypical entrepreneur.
I am not only bothered by the fact that decriminalization stands to put many small-town, or small-business weed dealers out of business, as it has already done in states like Massachusetts that have decriminalized recreational marijuana. What really concerns me is that, for nearly a century, we have locked up mostly young Black men for marijuana possession, while usually giving white dealers a pass. Those felonies and prison sentences destroyed the families and the hopes of those young men. With a felony conviction of drug distribution many young Black men have been denied access to jobs and often forced into the precarious under-the-table, and underground economies. creating a cycle of suffering and generational poverty.
We should not be celebrating the possible decriminalizion (the MORE Act has yet to pass the Senate) of the distribution, use, and cultivation of marijuana unless the new tax revenue is used to pay reparations to the Black community, which has been devastated by the war on drugs. We cannot, or should not, change our approach unless we are willing to admit that our previous approach to marijuana was both wrong and racist, and make amends.
In fact, this whole situation just proves how racist our economic system is. When a white man discovers that he can make money off something like weed, he is hailed as a capitalist hero. When a black man does the exact same thing, he is thrown in prison and his family and future are destroyed. We must find a way to fix that wrong.