THE POLITICS OF POT
Inked|Spring Issue with Ryan Ashley
Legalization is only the first step toward repairing the damage caused by the War on Drugs.
JOE NEIGHBOR, AJ FRANCE

Cannabis advocates are anticipating a banner year. In the coming months, the legislatures of New York and New Mexico, among others, will debate joining the 11 states where recreational marijuana is already legal. A further 15 states could have either retail or medicinal measures on the ballot this fall.

“Even at this early stage in the game, it seems clear to us that 2020 is going to be one of the most productive and exciting years in the marijuana legalization movement, probably in history,” says Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “The map in the beginning of 2021, when it comes to state marijuana laws, is going to look fundamentally different than it does now, and a hell of a lot greener.”

Politicians, forever with a finger in the wind, are reflecting the widespread public support for legal cannabis. Recent Pew and Gallup polls show two-thirds of Americans support legalization, including majorities of Republicans and Independents. This approval is more or less evenly spread across the map, too, and is shared by all ages born after the Silent Generation.

It does not simply tax revenue that excites those following this issue closely. The way we talk about cannabis has changed. Social justice and equity have emerged as critical components of any meaningful legalization effort, as advocates seek to not only end prohibition but also address the baneful legacy of the drug war.

States and cities are trying to reconcile the grotesque irony of citizens sitting in jail for past cannabis convictions, while a white-hot legal marijuana market makes a lot of money for Wall Street financiers and Silicon Valley ganjapreneurs. To many activists and lawmakers, it’s clear that not enough of this bounty is reaching the communities that bore the brunt of the War on Drugs. And even states that have made diversity of opportunity a priority, like Maryland and Massachusetts, have found it difficult to get licenses to grow, distribute or sell into the hands of minority entrepreneurs. These issues of fairness, long discounted or ignored, are finally getting their due.

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