US Should End Marijuana Prohibition
Human Rights Watch News
Human Rights Watch
2022 03 22
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Supporters hold flags near the Capitol in Washington, DC, during a rally in favor of marijuana legalization on April 24, 2017.
© AP Photo/Alex Brandon
In the last Congress, the US House of Representatives made history by passing the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. Another House floor vote on the newly introduced version of this bill is an urgent step towards advancing long overdue reform in the criminal legal system and beyond.
When the bill passed, it was the first time that a body of Congress voted to end the federal prohibition of marijuana – a policy that has led to the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of people. It also tears apart families when immigrants – often vital community members – are arrested and then deported for marijuana possession.
Ending marijuana prohibition would be a much-needed move toward a US drug policy grounded in human rights, harm reduction, and health.
Human Rights Watch has long documented the profound racial disparities in arrests and imprisonment for drug offenses in the United States. In a 2016 report, “Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States,” Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) documented how someone in the US was arrested for drug possession for personal use every 25 seconds, and that despite using drugs at similar rates as white people, Black adults were more than two-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested for possession.
Of these drug arrests, the largest share by far are marijuana related.
Increasing legalization of marijuana at the state level has resulted in significant reductions in marijuana arrests in multiple states. However, while marijuana arrests have dropped nationally in recent years, there were still an estimated 350,150 arrests for marijuana-related violations in the United States in 2020, roughly one arrest every 90 seconds. The overwhelming majority were for simple possession. And as a recent report by the ACLU shows, racial disparities in marijuana arrests for both possession and sales remain acute.
The MORE Act is a step toward a rights-respecting criminal legal system that furthers racial justice and equity. The bill would end federal marijuana prohibition, address the collateral consequences of criminalization, and take steps to repair the harms caused by the war on drugs on many communities in the US.
Members of Congress should heed the call of a diverse coalition of organizations and cosponsor the bill. House Leadership should immediately bring the bill to the floor for a vote.
To urge House Leadership to support the MORE Act and bring the bill to a vote this month, visit: https://engage.drugpolicy.org/secure/help-pass-more-act-house.