persons 21 and older through a system of taxation, licensing, and regulation. Legalization is the smartest and surest way to end targeted enforcement of marijuana laws in communities of color, and, moreover, would eliminate the costs of such enforcement while generating revenue for cash-strapped states. If legalization is not possible, the ACLU recommends depenalizing marijuana use and possession for persons 21 or older by removing all attendant civil and criminal penalties. We are also recommending that until legalization or depenalization is achieved, law enforcement agencies and district attorney offices should deprioritize enforcement of marijuana possession laws. In addition, police should end racial profiling and unconstitutional stop, frisk, and search practices, and no longer measure success and productivity by the number of arrests they make.
EBONY: Is there anything else you want our audience to understand about the report and marijuana policing?
EE: The real harm of these number of arrests, over 8 million in a decade...is that they are so racially biased that it makes everything more difficult for that person. Think about it, for conduct that is legal in 15 states...Black people are getting arrested and convicted—often without a lawyer—and this is creating an underclass that is pinned down by the criminal justice system for the same thing that certain people in some states can do without any fear of enforcement either because it’s legal or the cops are not paying attention.
In the last decade, 15 states have passed laws decriminalizing marijuana. But even with state decriminalization, arrests are still made. For some the conduct is treated like a minor traffic violation but for African-Americans the punishment is always much harsher and often has long term consequences. In a time when states are struggling just to keep schools open, when food stamp benefits are sliced and diced, and we when austerity measures are impacting millions and millions of lives, spending 3.6 billion dollars or more a year for marijuana policing is unconscionable. It is high time that law enforcement stop arresting and ruining people’s lives for a plant that has been proven to be less dangerous to our bodies and communities than cigarettes, alcohol or even fast food.