Despite the majority of Republican corporate spokespersons that have taken control of the senate following the midterm elections, liberal movements such as the push for drug reform were undoubtedly successful this past election. With laws being passed in Alaska, Oregon and Washington D.C and narrowly missed reforms such as those in Florida, drug reform may finally be gaining the surge it needs in the US. What does this mean for U.S. citizens, you may wonder? A lot more than just being able to possess pot.
For obvious reasons, you may soon have another reason to catch up on your American History when you visit the land of the federal government. On November 4th in D.C., residents helped pass Initiative 71 allowing individuals to legally possess up to two ounces of Marijuana and three mature cannabis plants, to transfer one ounce of marijuana to another individual, and to buy and sell drug paraphernalia for the use, growth, and processing of marijuana. Unlike Oregon and Alaska’s measures, however, residents of D.C will not be able to purchase marijuana from state vendors until a separate bill is passed.
Nonetheless, while the district still does not give residents the ability to legally purchase marijuana, it will finally be able to reform a large piece of our broken criminal justice system. In 2013, approximately 41 percent of all drug arrests were for possession of marijuana, which account for 88 percent of all marijuana arrests. Broken down into demographics, reports by the ACLU indicate that black individuals are over three and half times more likely than white individuals to fall victim to these arrests. While the trend that black individuals are more likely to be arrested is present in various socioeconomic communities, these disparities in individual arrest rates were found to worse in middle class to upper class neighborhoods, despite similar rates of usage.
With the mixed results of the last election, of conservative officials being elected and liberal initiatives being passed, some may have a skewed view of the future to drug reform. While it may appear that the incoming Congress will not promote the sale of marijuana, the recent nationwide protests are drawing considerable attention at an alarming rate to our faulty justice system that all-too-often appears to “coincidentally” arrest men of color for marijuana possession. It is doubtful that marijuana will soon be removed from its scheduled federal ranking, but quite possible that states will take note of Washington D.C’s decision to decriminalize possession, while restricting access to sales.
It is this initiative–the decriminalization of possession– that makes drug reform, or rather, criminal drug offence reform the central goal of this movement to come. While being able to purchase pot for recreational use would be nice, decriminalization would lead to sweeping reforms in the states, which would be beneficial to both Democrats and Republicans alike, who are looking to gain popularity among the recent surge of criminal justice advocates. By retroactively applying the changed laws, individuals would be able to not only avoid harsh minimum sentencing in states that impose this measure, but would also be able to challenge the legal grounds of their incarceration, potentially releasing thousands of non-violent offenders.
Beyond this one can only speculate upon future changes following decriminalization. Following potential overturned convictions, thousands of people would be eligible to wipe clean their only criminal record and move on from the prison system that has entrapped so many Americans to date. This is a goal that hopefully our new Congress can see is worth working towards.