Weekly Wonder: How marijuana was the real winner this election season

By Devyani Chhetri
BU News Service

In a big win for marijuana advocates across the country,  Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota welcomed the idea of regulating recreational marijuana by voting yes on ballot questions aimed at reforming drug policies in these states. South Dakota and Mississippi also said yes to regulating marijuana for medical use.

As of today, 35 states and four territories including Guam, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands have a regulated medical marijuana mandate. Meanwhile, 15 states and three territories allow adult-use, recreational marijuana. Drug policy reforms on state levels will prove to be a game-changer at a time when the plant is still categorized as a “Schedule I” substance federally, making it illegal on a national level. 

Last year, a Pew Research survey found that two-thirds of Americans felt that marijuana should be legal. Opposition to the drug has also decreased considerably in just a decade falling to 32% in 2019 from 52% in 2010.

Meanwhile on the business side of affairs, experts anticipate that this young industry is likely to employ nearly 295,000 people by the end of 2020, a 50% increase from 2019 when an estimated 165,000 to 210,000 people were employed in the marijuana workforce.

Way before former president Richard Nixon announced a “War on drugs”, Black and brown communities had always been at the receiving end of possession and distribution related arrests. The 1970s drug policies put forth by his administration, however, legitimized the usage of government machinery at a nation-wide scale. There are nearly 2.1 million Americans in jail, among whom 47.5% were serving time for a drug offence as their most serious crime. A 2020 ACLU report found that Black people were 3.6 times m ore likely to be arrested despite similar rates of usage.

Could this industry be a way to right older wrongs? Evelyn LaChappelle, a California resident and an advocate for the Last Prisoner Project, a cannabis reform nonprofit, certainly thinks so. She was charged with depositing profits from a marijuana operation without ever directly being involved in its distribution or possession in 2013. The years she spent in prison, about seven years, were hard and long and the loss of time spent with her daughter deeply affected her. 

After LaChappelle got out of prison, she applied for a job for a managerial position in a reputable hotel. She was only months into the job when her employer did a random background check and found that she had been to prison. Now, LaChappelle works with a marijuana producing company that has helped her get back on her feet and achieve financial stability. 

“This industry can do so much for people making their way back into the workforce. You’re used to seeing white faces for the typical management positions and that’s what needs to change,” she said.

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