(accidently published on a different blog site last week)
President Biden made an announcement last week that rocked the cannabis legalization community. He announced that he would pardon all citizens and permanent residents convicted of simple cannabis possession.[i] But the pardon is hardly worth the fanfare that it has been receiving and is more of a political stunt than any substantial act that will actually end cannabis prohibition.
The total number of federal cannabis- only convictions from 1992-2021 is 6577.[ii] That is 227 convictions per year. Of course, that is 227 too many each year. It is also a drop in the bucket of the big picture of cannabis interdiction. First of all, the lion’s share of cannabis-related prosecutions are at the state level. And, for various reasons, the accurate number of cannabis convictions is unclear.
One reason is that local law enforcement does not have to submit their arrest data to the FBI crime data aggregators, so the actual arrest numbers are unclear. According to The Marshall Project, almost 40% of law enforcement agencies did not report their arrest data to the FBI for 2021.[iii]
Another reason is that cannabis can be used as a legal cudgel. An individual can be arrested for a firearm and if they have cannabis on them, that will be added to their sentence. Cannabis can also be responsible for recidivism, where a parolee can get their sentence reinstated because of the herb.[iv]
Some will say this is a call to action for governors to issue their own pardons, but this is already old news in many parts of the country. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker pardoned more than 11,000 people in 2019.[v] Other states like Connecticut included these pardons in the laws that they passed legalizing cannabis.[vi]
But not all governors can step up to the call. Some states like Alabama and North Carolina do not give the Governors the power to unilaterally grant pardons. And then there are the active oppressors. These are the states are controlled by people who absolutely refuse to embark in any dialogue that may be perceived as solidarity with their sworn enemy, the Democrats.
These states are places like South Dakota, where their governor successfully killed a citizen-led initiative in 2021.[vii] And my wonderful state of Nebraska did the same thing in 2020. There is no amount of logic that will get through to these states. Which is tragic, because I could personally benefit from these Christian nationalists showing empathy for their citizens. My personal cannabis politics grated against them back in the 90’s. In fact, from 2001-2003 I got ticketed 6 times for cannabis. It is clear that I would be a felon and would have spent a fair amount of time in prison if I would have failed to take refuge in California and Colorado these last 20 years. They were hunting me.
Fortunately, though, I did spend most of my adult life in a safe place, and was able to continue to grow and enjoy my life without the massive albatross of cannabis prohibition on my neck. Indeed, the weight of the albatross has been returned and the hopelessness of oppression and exclusion very much weighs on me. But the only way to get this albatross off of my neck is to be here and open the closed hearts and minds of Christo nationalism. They need to learn that their fear of cannabis is misguided, irrational, and hysterical. It won’t be done if folks like me run away to greener states. It will only be accomplished by actually interacting with them away from Facebook and in person.