Last Thursday U.S Attorney General Eric Holder made the much awaited announcement that the Department of Justice would allow laws legalizing the use of marijuana for adults in Colorado and Washington to go into effect. Though contingent on the states’ abilities to “implement strong and effective and regulatory enforcement systems,” this directive marks a significant shift in federal thinking on marijuana policy reform.
Finally it seems the federal government is catching on to increasing public sentiment that the War on Marijuana has failed. Decades of resources wasted and lives ruined by disastrous “tough on crime” policies have come at a tremendous financial cost and had immeasurable consequences for the individuals, communities and states. Our criminal justice system is maxed, our prisons and jails are over-crowded and we are no safer for it.
According to an ACLU Report in 2010 alone, marijuana enforcement cost the American taxpayer 3.6 billion dollars – money we all know could be better utilized investing in our communities, schools and infrastructure. Even this number, however, does not account for the human cost once trapped inside the criminal justice maze. Between 2001 and 2010 there were 8 million marijuana arrests in the United States – many of which had devastating consequences for those individuals future ability to find employment, vote or pursue higher education.
Lastly, huge disparities exist in how marijuana laws are applied. Despite similar use rates, African Americans are 3.73 times more likely to arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Even in Maine, the whitest state in the country, blacks are on average 2.1 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.
It is time for reform. And the good news is Holder’s announcement is a huge step in the right direction. As the laws in Washington and Colorado go into effect, there is no doubt other states are watching. A recent Huffington Post article profiled the ten states it believes most likely to take steps to legalize marijuana. Maine - with an upcoming Portland legalization initiative already on the books - not surprisingly, made the list. With increasing public support and a tentative green light from the Department of Justice, the momentum for marijuana reform is building nationwide, and with Maine poised at the forefront.