Bernard Noble, a Black father of seven, spent seven years in prison in Louisiana for possession two joints of marijuana, initially sentenced to 13 years in prison for a nonviolent drug conviction.

If this man lived in another state, such as Washington, Nevada or Colorado, his story would be radically different. Marijuana laws are different from state to state, but the plant is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government.

How is it that states within our unified country can treat the same issue with such disparity?

The federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the same drug class as heroin, and has refused to change it.

A stricter class lets the Drug Enforcement Administration enforce increased restriction regarding access to a drug’s supply, which leads to the drug being more difficult to research for its medical or recreational purposes.

Our state and federal governments should not promote such mixed messages concerning substance control.

Marijuana is treated as equally dangerous as more harmful drugs, such as cocaine or heroin,  when this is clearly not the case, as evidenced by the opioid epidemic. Alcohol, undoubtedly an extremely harmful and dangerous substance, is treated with arguably little regulation despite its proven dangers and risk to society.

Given these facts, why isn’t the federal government’s policies toward marijuana changing to reflect these facts?

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) data shows that Black and White people use marijuana at the same rate. However, Black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

The ACLU also shows that, in the U.S., 96% of the counties with more than 30,000 people in it and at least 2% of that population being Black, that Black people in these counties are arrested at higher rates than White people for marijuana possession.

There is a problem with racial inequality in the justice system especially with marijuana charges, a fact that is hard to argue against when faced with the numbers that ACLU provides in their report.

Combating the disparity in policy and racial equity in marijuana regulation and enforcement can only be started by coming up with solutions.

Legalizing marijuana for everyone 21 and up and dropping the charges for people in prison on marijuana possession will allow citizens who have suffered at the hand of the law because of unfair marijuana charges to be able to get their life back on track.

Relaxing regulations on a federal level can bring about more justice for people who should not be punished. Most of the people who use marijuana, like Noble, are not criminals and do not deserve such harsh punishments that can ruin their lives.

This country spends a ridiculous amount of money to keep people in prison who do not belong there. Pew Research shows that the U.S. incarcerates a larger amount of its population than any other country.

The people who have suffered on marijuana charges deserve justice, and they deserve their rights back. They are not felons, criminals or outlaws. They are our brothers, our fathers, our sisters, mothers and friends.

Smoking weed is not a crime, and the U.S. ought to stop treating it as if it is a hazard to the citizens of our country. Our government ought to instead divert their attention and resources to substances that are causing more direct harm to the public, rather than ones that are predominantly constrained to individual choice, not societal impact.

The government has inequitable policies concerning marijuana, both from a practical scientific aspect and a racial disparity aspect. Solutions begin when we treat this issue rationally and with fairness, by prosecuting the real criminals and not base laws off of bias and presumptions against the drug or the people using it.

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