Legal Pot Advocates Focus on Criminal Justice Reform

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State lawmakers and advocates pushing to legalize marijuana aren’t just promoting legalization as a way to raise tax revenue and regulate an underground pot market. They’re also talking about fixing a broken criminal justice system and reinvesting in poor and minority communities that have been battered by decades of  government wars on drugs, Stateline reports. The focus on justice and equity has sharpened over time, longtime pot advocates say, as it’s become clear that such issues should be addressed and that doing so won’t alienate voters, most of whom support legal marijuana. Civil rights groups have raised their voices in legalization discussions.

Social justice provisions can be found in legalization proposals in both blue and red states, including several of the states where voters will face ballot measures on the issue in November. Social justice also is a talking point for opponents, who argue that allowing weed sales would hurt — not help — low-income and minority people. “We don’t want either extreme. We don’t want incarceration, and we don’t want legalization and commercialization,” said Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a Virginia-based coalition that is opposing legalization efforts in multiple states. Many state legislators say they back legalization because, first and foremost, it can be an opportunity to make changes to the criminal justice system and repair the harm done to groups disproportionately arrested for using the drug. “For me, the social justice piece of it is much larger than, I think, the taxing and regulating — although that is important,” said New York Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat who proposed a bill to legalize weed. Nine states and the District of Columbia allow recreational adult use of small amounts of marijuana, and 23 others allow certain patients to use the drug medicinally.

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