Here’s the thing. I’m a regular person. Nearly half of Americans have tried weed, and I’m not ashamed to be among them. But that doesn’t stop state and federal governments from continuing to lock up people for using cannabis, and it certainly does not compel the political establishment to free the estimated 40,000 people currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses.
If it seems like I’m just a little angry about all of this, it’s because I am. I’m a Black person living in America, so I am no stranger to the systemic cruelty of our current criminal punishment system. But on this topic, it’s more than personal. As a young woman, I was arrested for possession of marijuana. Arrested, processed and locked in a cell.
I ended up being detained for about 12 to 13 hours in a cell with about 12 to 15 other women. Some of us were on the floor. There was one toilet inside of the cell, so that if you had to use the bathroom, you had to use the bathroom in front of everyone else.
Despite this arrest, I had it luckier than others. I was processed out of the jail fairly quickly and had the opportunity to stay out of jail if I completed a drug rehabilitation program. Tens of thousands of people across the country have not been so lucky.
It would be false comfort to say, now that I’m a bit older, what happened to me back then would not happen to me now. But that’s not true.
The War on Drugs isn’t some virtuous crusade trying to rescue people from themselves, it’s a targeted campaign of violence and terror designed to lock people — Black people — in cages and deprive them of their liberty. It’s not even over for me, because I have this arrest lingering over me every time I’ve had to apply for a job with a security clearance.
Unfortunately, this campaign has enjoyed bipartisan support for decades, President Bill Clinton’s infamous crime bill lent bipartisan legitimacy to Richard Nixon’s racist goal. Steny Hoyer, the man I am running for Congress against, has been more than happy over his long career to support the War on Drugs. In fact, Mr. Hoyer has peddled nonsense about marijuana being a “gateway drug” as late as 2019. Hoyer seemed to join reality in the summer 2020—when the system’s capacity to destroy lives was on full display — only to abandon legalizing marijuana a few months later.
I’m offering my community another choice. Instead of perpetuating the racist War on Drugs, I am fighting for a revolution in American drug policy.
That means fully legalizing marijuana and expunging all marijuana convictions. It also means redirecting resources away from the militarized police forces and into programs that can actually help those in need. It means passing Medicare for All so those struggling with addiction can get the treatment they need without going broke. And, by God, it means leaving people who use drugs safely and responsibly well enough alone.