Marijuana Legalization May Lead to Justice Reform
Public opinion on marijuana legalization has changed considerably in the last two decades. Marijuana usage was once taboo. But for the last decade, the percentage of Americans supporting legalization has consistently stayed at or above 50.
A Gallup poll from late 2020 shows that nearly 70% of Americans now support legalization. Several states have legalized the use of marijuana and more are poised to follow. This opens the door for both conservatives and liberals to weave marijuana legalization and regulation into their platforms. And, they can use marijuana policy to introduce other important policy conversations, too.
Marijuana legal in 17 states and counting
New Mexico, New York, and Virginia have passed legislation to legalize marijuana in 2021. This brings the count of states in which marijuana is legal up to 17, along with Washington, DC. Many states where marijuana is still illegal seem poised to follow suit, with Connecticut and Louisiana leading the way.
As marijuana use becomes more widely accepted, legislators have an opportunity to be thoughtful in shaping new policies. In addition to legalizing marijuana’s use and sale, there’s opportunity to regulate how and to whom it can be sold and where it can be used.
Rethinking decades of criminalization
One of the biggest opportunities marijuana legalization presents is the opportunity to reform the criminal justice system. Millions of Americans are in prison because of marijuana use and sales, and Black Americans are disproportionately affected.
Legalization means politicians can commute the sentences of those serving time in prison for marijuana-related crimes that took place years ago. It also means criminal records can be expunged for those offenders. And it could mean deeper conversations about racial equity and the criminalization of other activities that don’t cause harm to the innocent, like hard drug use and public intoxication.
Americans are becoming more accepting of marijuana use. Liberals and conservatives alike stand to benefit from seizing this political moment to address hard questions and rethink how the justice system should look.