What Happens to People of Color After Weed Is Legal?
The MORE Act is a first step but we have a long way to go
Last week marked a historic step for the legalization of marijuana, as the House of Representatives passed the trailblazing MORE Act that could decriminalize the substance federally. The bill, which marks the first time a marijuana bill was voted on in Congress, passed by a vote of 228–164, would also expunge nonviolent marijuana criminal records en masse if it passes in the Senate. Though the future of the bill is highly dependent on whether the Democrats flip the Senate in the Georgia runoffs, the MORE Act could potentially address many racial inequality issues. However, experts tell ZORA that there’s still much more work to be done though this is a first step.
The mass expungement of marijuana-related criminal records could potentially free 40,000 Americans who are currently incarcerated due to marijuana charges and erase the stigma of past criminal convictions. Felony convictions can affect a previously incarcerated person’s employment prospects, housing options, right to vote, familial relationships, and friendships. Erasing those records would help previously incarcerated people access rights that are stripped away by the criminal justice system, and diminish some of the long term effects of felony convictions, particularly for previously incarcerated Black job applicants who experience significant discrimination in the job market in comparison to their White counterparts. For Brittany Friedman, PhD, assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers University, mass expungement would be a significant and necessary decarceration tool, but she warns that reparations must come along with any attempt to repair the harm of the war on drugs on marginalized communities.
“The contemporary war on drugs was but one iteration of violence, nested within a long history of financial dispossession through the use of assigning criminal labels to behavior and people,” Friedman said. “Expungement must be paired with truth and reconciliation not only in the form of words but in dollars. Public and private entities have profited immensely through the moral panic created around the criminalization of marijuana and the requisite use of policing and incarceration.” Friedman also pointed out that there are…