This Sunday’s Meet the Press panel on marijuana reform was annoying for the sheer number of bad puns and unacceptable level of laughter. But even worse was the bizarre claim made that somehow marijuana reform is being “rushed.”
Judy Woodruff, the co-anchor and managing editor of the PBS Newshour, said “I think it’s important to have the debate. But I think it’s, I wonder what’s the rush. I mean, why not see what’s going on in the states.”
Marijuana prohibition has been going on for nearly a century in the United States, giving us plenty of time to judge it a failure. In the Netherlands they’ve had de facto legalization for basically 30 years giving us plenty of time to learn from it as well.
States started decriminalizing marijuana 41 years ago, allowing medical marijuana 18 years ago and legalized adult use two years ago. As a country we have been dealing with and debating this federal-state conflict regarding marijuana’s legal status my entire adult life. If anything the issue has moved at a glacier’s pace.
Sadly, it is easy to see where the complete lack of urgency comes from. Even though marijuana results in hundreds of thousand of arrests each year, they disproportionately hurt minorities, immigrants and people with modest incomes. These groups are more likely to be targeted by law enforcement, more likely to face harsher penalties, less likely to have lawyers, and more likely to have a hard time dealing the negative consequences of having a blemish on their criminal record.
For the rich, politically-connect white people marijuana is already practically legal. People like, Judy Woodroff and David Gregory, their friends and their families have very little to worry about so they don’t see it as a big issue. They are not being target and they can afford very good lawyers if they happen to get caught.
It was telling that columnist Ruth Marcus’s main statement about marijuana legalization for adults was that it might make it marginally easier for her teenagers to get some. She didn’t talk about the damage that being arrested could do to her kids’ lives, because luckily her kids don’t really have much to worry about on that front, statistically speaking.
It is difficult for me to imagine Woodruff would ask “what’s the rush?” if instead we were talking about a policy that negatively effecting hundreds of thousands of people like her.
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy