by Brian Shilhavy
Editor, Health Impact News
As 2020 started last week, Illinois’ new law legalizing marijuana went into effect. Illinois became the 11th state in the U.S. to make marijuana legal for recreational use, and the first one to do so via legislation rather than a ballot initiative.
On Dec. 31, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced that he was issuing 11,017 pardons to people with low-level marijuana convictions.
Vaidya Gullapalli, writing for The Appeal , states that these pardons by the Illinois governor “are a reminder of the scale of marijuana arrests,” which target Black people and Latinos in a much larger proportion than the rest of the population.
Since the “war on drugs” began in the 1970s, the U.S. has incarcerated a larger proportion of their population than any other developed nation in the world.
Illinois offers a snapshot of the magnitude of this problem, as The Appeal reports :
All told, state officials estimate that a total of 116,000 convictions involving 30 grams or less of marijuana are eligible for pardons under the new law, reported CBS News. The process is not automatic, but state officials have sought to make it as close to automatic as possible. There are also an estimated 572,000 marijuana arrests that will be expunged over the next five years. People may also apply for expungements of convictions for marijuana possession over 30 grams, putting the total number of possible pardons at over 700,000.
That number is a reminder of the enormous scale of marijuana arrests in this country and the millions of people subjected to state force under marijuana prohibition. Marijuana laws, in Illinois and elsewhere, moreover, were and are not enforced equally. Despite similar rates of use between Black and white people, Black people are arrested for marijuana offenses at rates several times higher than those for white people. (Full article .)
Opinion: Time to Decriminalize Marijuana at the Federal Level
As we have reported over the years here at Health Impact News, one of the main reasons marijuana has been illegal at the federal level is because it is a direct threat to the pharmaceutical industry.
It is a plant and natural herb, and therefore cannot be patented and controlled like pharmaceutical drugs. The myth that it has no therapeutic value has been propagated since the 1970s when the war on drugs started.
But the truth is that marijuana is being used in non-recreational and therapeutic ways that is truly helping people, such as cancer therapy and eliminating seizures among many others.
While it is psycho-active and therefore not without some risks, the dangers of marijuana cannot be compared to the dangers of legal, prescription drugs, especially today as our nation grapples with its addiction to opioid pain killers, which is killing thousands.
And who gets to define what is a “drug”? There are many other natural herbs with therapeutic value, and in terms of recreational mind or mood altering substances we could also apply the “drug” label to alcohol, caffeine, and processed sugar as well, and there are probably tens of millions of Americans addicted to these substances, as well as prescription drugs, who are not punished and locked up in prison.
The millions of Americans incarcerated in prisons today for possession of a mere 30 grams of marijuana are not criminals, and they do not belong there.
They are victims of unfair marijuana legislation, and thankfully one more state has taken steps to rectify this terrible injustice that targets poor minorities unfairly.