Stop fighting against the legalization of marijuana

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Bay County is well on its way to becoming a major hub of medical marijuana dispensaries. With thousands of medical marijuana cardholders in the Tri-County area, cities in Saginaw and Midland Counties may end up following suit, especially once tax money starts rolling in from medical marijuana sales.

Some locals worry about these developments, viewing dispensaries as mere marijuana stores that pass as medical services that are sure to bring crime and vice to their communities. While their “Reefer Madness” pearl clutching is a total joke (folks, tons of people in your community already smoke pot), critics of medical marijuana are partly right in their suspicions.

While there absolutely are thousands of sick Michiganders with qualifying conditions who use medical marijuana to ease pain, we’ve got to acknowledge that medical marijuana cards are frequently given out frivolously, and many cardholders’ cases are simply fraudulent.

Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with fraudulently attaining a medical marijuana card when marijuana laws are unjust and extremely stupid. But the fact remains that the movement for marijuana legalization has for decades piggybacked on legitimate medical marijuana patients, using an ostensibly medical service to cover their recreational use.

Medical marijuana as a service for the ill should stay, but those who advocate for legal recreational use for adults must move beyond exploiting the medical system and instead focus on legalization per se.

Which brings us to some real activists on the subject, The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. This group of petitioners turned in around 365,000 signatures to the Michigan Bureau of Elections last year to place a legalization proposal on the 2018 ballot. Their signatures are still being vetted, but it’s looking very likely that Michiganders will vote on statewide legalization and taxation of marijuana this year.

No one who isn’t a huge nerd honestly believes marijuana is dangerous. We all know the three deadliest drugs in America are alcohol, nicotine and prescription painkillers. Marijuana has never killed anyone, is impossible to overdose on and can be ingested safely via non-smoking methods.

Marijuana advocates’ impending victory is made most clear by the fact that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a symbol for many of ossified and old-fashioned Democratic Party leadership, wants you to be able to smoke pot. Schumer announced on April 20 that he would soon introduce a bill that would remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances, effectively legalizing it.

National legalization would be a huge boon for states’ economies, as they would be able to wrangle profits and tax revenue away from the black market. It would free up police resources to pursue crimes that actually matter and to police drugs that actually harm people. But perhaps most importantly, it would free communities of color from the insidious double-standard around marijuana law enforcement.

If you’re like me, a white person from a white neighborhood policed by white cops, marijuana has already been effectively legal for you for years. Even when caught, we’re given second, third, fourth chances and cut loose with a warning. For other less privileged demographics, however, that’s not how it works. Getting caught might mean a ticket, a night in jail, a criminal record, loss of student financial aid and difficulty finding work. White people and minorities consume drugs at the same rates, but minority communities are policed differently and punished disproportionately for drug crimes.

This long-term injustice can’t be reversed by just legalizing marijuana. Marijuana law offenders should all be immediately released from any legal penalties and their criminal records expunged – the ludicrous and racist application of marijuana laws demands it. People and communities who have been harmed by the war on drugs should be compensated monetarily and given strong preference when applying for marijuana-related businesses. And finally, medical marijuana should be moved out of its state-by-state application and instead regulated at the national level to be freely available for anyone with a serious enough qualifying condition.

Rather than fighting a useless moralizing war against a harmless drug, concerned citizens should ensure their local governments are appropriately ushering in these changes in a responsible manner that uplifts their communities and invigorates the local economies.

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