LOS ANGELES—Southern California Coalition (SCC), the largest, most inclusive cannabis industry trade organization located in the world’s largest cannabis marketplace, Southern California, issued the following statement on US Attorney General Jeff Sessions‘ memorandum ordering federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest possible sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenders.
Statement by Virgil Grant, president and co-founder of Southern California Coalition:
This is a direct attack on social justice and equality. The Sessions’ memo takes a new Jim Crow approach that does not work. These failed policies will only continue to ruin more lives, cause the illicit marketplace to thrive, and endanger communities.
This astoundingly foolish approach is more than a step backwards. It is a direct assault on African Americans and other minorities, who will be targeted and sentenced at higher rates than they already are now. It will also turn back the progress that we’ve made reforming racially biased laws and dismantle the sensible policies enacted by the Obama Administration.
With this new position, Sessions revealed to the American people that he is not only scarily misinformed about new approaches that work, but that he is clueless about the personal and taxpayer costs of massive enforcement of laws criminalizing personal drug use and possession. Sessions’ 1980s-failed-war-on-drugs approach must be overturned, or Americans should expect more injustices, more crime on our streets, and more harm done to minorities and lower socioeconomic communities.
At a time when 71% of Americans do not want a crackdown on state-legal cannabis, the Trump Administration and elected officials, who fail to take action or let this policy go unchallenged, can only expect a major political backlash from the American people.
Incarcerating Otherwise Law-Abiding People for Cannabis: A Wasting of Taxpayers’ Dollars
However, while some states have implemented responsible laws, and other have decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis, other states still make cannabis possession a misdemeanor or even a felony. Data shows that current laws on the books are often enforced in racially biased ways. Coupled enforcement issues with a system that coerces guilty pleas, the consequences can be devastating for individuals charged with cannabis ‘crimes.’ The loss of a job, the right to vote, court fines, and other penalties, along with the stigma of a conviction when trying to secure work, an apartment or home, or accessing benefits and other programs can be devastating. Additionally, the cost to identify, arrest, prosecute, sentence, incarcerate, and supervise people for cannabis possession are tax dollars that could be better spent. In fact, according to a report by Harvard economics professor Jeffery Miron, which was endorsed by three Nobel Laureates in economics and 500+ economists, the combined savings and tax revenues from legal, regulated cannabis in a single year would be between $10 billion and $14 billion.
Racially Biased Laws: Impacting People, Not Kingpins
According to the ACLU, the majority of the people police arrested for cannabis are not kingpins, but rather individuals with small amounts of cannabis. Cannabis arrests are not evenly distributed across the population, but are disproportionately imposed on African Americans. The ACLU’s original analysis shows that cannabis arrests now account for more than half of all drug arrests in the United States. Of the 8.2 million cannabis arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88 percent were for simply having cannabis. Nationwide, the arrest data revealed one consistent trend: a significant racial bias.
Despite roughly equal usage rates, African Americans are nearly four times more likely than Caucasians to be arrested for cannabis. At the same time, African Americans only makeup 12 percent of the population of drug users, yet the NAACP reports that 59 percent of the people incarcerated for drug offenses. At the same time, Caucasians are more likely to deal drugs, but African Americans are more likely to be arrested for dealing drugs. Humans Rights Watch has also reported that though 74 percent of regular cannabis users are non-Hispanic whites and 14 percent are black, African Americans make up 30 percent of all cannabis arrests.
Support for Legalization Has Never Been Higher
According to an October 2016 Gallup poll, American support for legalizing cannabis is at 60 percent, the highest it’s been in 47 years, and a 2015 Harris poll found a staggering 81 percent of Americans support legalization of cannabis for medical use. There are now 28 states and the District of Columbia that have chosen to create regulated cannabis programs, including four of the five most populated states in the nation. More than 20 percent of the US population lives in states that allow adults 21 and older to legally consume cannabis, and more than 60 percent of the population lives in a state where medical cannabis access is legal. Support for legalization has only grown as existing programs in state-legal markets and the District of Columbia provide access to life-changing treatments for critically ill patients, empowered responsible small business owners over criminal dealers and cartels, and generated valuable economic development, jobs, and revenues for strapped state budgets.