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Recreational Marijuana Legalization

4/10/2019, noon | Updated on 4/10/2019, noon
While Illinois is finally ready to have a serious and overdue conversation about fairer, more reasonable marijuana laws, some special ...
Sonya M. Harper, State Representative, 6th District

Recreational Marijuana Legalization

BY SONYA M. HARPER

While Illinois is finally ready to have a serious and overdue conversation about fairer, more reasonable marijuana laws, some special interests are pushing for continued prohibition. In stating they hope to “slow down” the process of legalization, these special interests are perpetuating an unfair, unequal process in which marijuana is effectively legal for recreational use—if you’re white.

According to the ACLU’s “The War on Marijuana in Black and White” report, more whites have reported being marijuana users than African Americans for over a decade straight. Yet in Illinois, blacks were over 7.5 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana. In Illinois, even after the decriminalization of marijuana—in which police issue tickets instead of making arrests—the racial disparity in those targeted for enforcement has continued.

The misguided “War on Drugs” has inflicted immeasurable harm on black and brown communities. While we can never truly calculate the social costs of mass incarceration or the extent to which prohibition has created a thriving black market, what we do know is that the “War on Drugs” is being waged on the wrong people: Appallingly, the misguided drug war has created a situation in which 90 percent of marijuana arrests or citations target end users for possession, not drug dealers or manufacturers.

Rather than continue this racially biased and haphazard system, I believe legalizing adult, recreational marijuana is about making a system that is equitable. Fairer marijuana laws will not only open new doors for businesses in Illinois, but it will also help correct some of the longstanding harm inflicted on our communities by the War on Drugs.

Under a fair recreational system, entrepreneurs from neighborhoods that have faced systemic disinvestment will be prioritized for business development opportunities, helping provide jobs and dearly-needed investments to communities that suffered most under prohibition. The use of craft growing would also be encouraged to promote local small businesses in a way similar to the craft beer boom experienced by Illinois.

With an equitable and fair approach to legalization of recreational marijuana use, we can begin to repair historic injustices that have taken place against far too many Illinoisans, encourage the growth of a new, unique business sector, and join the ten states that have already legalized recreational marijuana at the forefront of both economic development and justice.

Sonya M. Harper is a Democratic member of the Illinois House of Representatives, 6th District.