“It’s a game changer.” That was my first thought as a retired police officer when I learned that President Joe Biden had signed an executive order pardoning those convicted of minor federal marijuana charges and the Secretary of Health and Human Services and had asked the Attorney General to review planning the Narcotics Act.
After two decades in law enforcement, I’ve spent the last decade reforming the criminal justice system, beginning with the war on drugs. Few policies in American history have done as much damage as these racist, ineffective, cruel laws that have distorted the goals of policing, produced exorbitant profits for organized crime, and needlessly and counterproductively criminalized millions of people.
Biden’s announcement yesterday has the potential to become the most significant federal drug law reform since former President Richard Nixon launched the war on drugs in earnest in 1971. While I welcome the move to grant low-level pardons to federal marijuana offenders, this is largely a symbolic gesture: State and local arrests for marijuana far outweigh those of the federal government. This arrangement will only clear the table for about 6,500 people.
More important is the direction for HHS and the Justice Department to “quickly review” the DEA classification of marijuana, and the President’s call for governors across the country to follow the millions of people with arrest records at the state and local levels. The former is the first step towards sensible regulation of marijuana. The latter hints that he means business.
Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive category reserved for those drugs that have no medical use and have a high potential for abuse. After years of sane legalization and regulation at the state level, and a growing consensus about its medicinal value, does anyone still think it belongs there?
While Biden has indicated in the past that he supports rescheduling cannabis to Schedule II, and the government insists he is not committed to an outcome, such a minor change would likely not grant a full pardon to all offenders with simple possession charges justify. I am confident that the end game here is the full determination of marijuana and its regulation more like that of tobacco and alcohol. It is absolutely necessary for the future of the police force.
Since the beginning of the War on Drugs, enforcing drug policy against Americans making their own consensual decisions has been a primary concern of local, state, and federal law enforcement. There are numerous incentives — from federal grants to promotion opportunities for individual officers at all levels — for police to make drug arrests their top priority. however there The cable and other shows have shown, and countless research studies have shown, that it’s not the quality of the arrest that matters, it’s the quantity.
It’s far easier to raid a street corner, arrest 12 low-level sellers and buyers and report it to the public as evidence of “police efficiency” than to spend months and multiple officers investigating a single murder. In fact, violent crime clearance rates (the rate at which police solve crimes) have declined over the past 50 years since the start of the War on Drugs, while pre-pandemic drug arrests were 3:1 higher than violent crimes — with marijuana being the most common this offset about a third of those arrests.
“Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive category reserved for those drugs that have no medical use and have a high potential for abuse.”
When cannabis is an illegal product, not only do sellers get a premium price for it, they don’t have to pay taxes, monitor their product for safety or purity, or restrict who they sell it to. In fact, sales to children under the age of 21 make up a large part of the illicit market. That all changes when marijuana is phased out and regulated, as it has been in 19 states and Washington, DC to fund any other criminal activity – like hard drug smuggling, sex trafficking, you name it.
Instead, that money now goes to local business owners who pay taxes, monitor their products, and verify IDs. It was a major blow to the cartels, while states raked in billions of dollars in taxes.
So, by legalizing, we are disabling criminal organizations and allowing police to get back to the very reason police exist in the first place: to prevent and solve violent crime.
Some people here might argue that if these laws get people to stop using substances that are bad for them, it’s worth it. But instead of discouraging people from using cannabis, these arrests have undermined public confidence in law enforcement and deepened social and racial divides.
Any arrest, especially if it leads to incarceration, results in a criminal record that makes it harder to find a job and housing. And because people of color are still more likely to be arrested for marijuana crimes than white Americans—despite similar rates of black and white marijuana use—this has far-reaching cross-generational implications, particularly in poorer, marginalized communities. In addition, higher incarceration rates are associated with declining medical and economic health of communities and rising crime rates.
Worse still, these repercussions often make turning to escalating criminal activity the best or only option for individuals disqualified from employment due to a record of arrest. It’s a vicious circle that undermines public safety and has its roots in a racist past.
As a law enforcement expert, I am aware of the far-reaching implications of this executive order. This is not the light at the end of years of lobbying, but the beginning of an era of better drug policies and sensible regulation.
Lt. Diane Goldstein (Ret.) is a 21-year-old police veteran and executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nonprofit group of police officers, judges, and other law enforcement professionals who support policies that improve public safety and police-community relations.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/im-a-cop-its-about-time-we-ended-marijuana-prohibition?source=articles&via=rss i am a cop It’s time we ended marijuana prohibition.