After a meeting with black millennial leaders and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), I visited one of my closest friends who lives in a quaint apartment complex in a D.C. suburb. Attempting to decompress from the conversation about mass incarceration, gender equity, and bail bonds, I found myself zoned in on Maryland foliage swaying gently from a spring breeze. My attention was then captured by children traversing the courtyard of the complex with elevated voices and sheer excitement. The children were unfazed by the economic limitations characteristic of the neighborhood. And, as pick-up games of soccer convened on both ends of the property, no one seemed concerned about the certain scent of marijuana lofting in the air. Though Maryland has decriminalized marijuana possession, I could not help but consider the intersectional practices of policing poverty and criminalizing nonwhite communities, which grossly imbalance marijuana-related arrests despite equivalent usage cross racial and class demarcations throughout the nation.
In February, Senator Booker, alongside Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) reintroduced the Marijuana Justice Act intended to abolish the federal prohibition against cannabis. The law would legalize marijuana nationally and remove the plant from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s list of controlled substances, companion to incentivizing states to end their respective Cannabis bans. Considered the strongest proposal to undo the social squeeze of the drug war on nonwhite communities, the bill offers provisions for persons currently incarcerated in federal prison for marijuana convictions to petition for resentencing. Moreover, the law would retroactively and automatically expunge existing marijuana-related criminal records at a federal level.
In 2017, one in seven Americans reported using marijuana, with smoking being the most common form of consumption. Every 53 seconds, law enforcement arrests someone in the U.S. for marijuana possession, approximately 650,00 people a year. Overall, marijuana arrests made up 40.4 percent of the nation's 1,632,921 drug arrests in 2017. New Jersey — my state, which incarcerates our black residents at 12 times the rate of our white residents — alone expends more than $ 140 million of taxpayer dollars to arrest more than 24,000 people annually for marijuana possession. Although black and white communities use marijuana at comparable rates, black residents are three times more vulnerable to arrest for cannabis violations than white residents.