Legalize It! The US government needs to take the high road and legalize marijuana

Madelyn Woodard, Opinion Editor

Disclaimer: Neither I, The Zephyr, nor West Forsyth High School condone illegal drug use of any kind
“It’s about time!” is all I could think when it was announced that President Joe Biden pardoned thousands of people convicted with simple possession of marijuana on the federal level on Oct. 6. Biden’s reasoning was that the current system “makes no sense,” and boy was it nice to hear someone else say it, especially the President of the United States.
I’ve been confused by our country’s current system of dealing with marijuana for years. Aside from the indisputable disparity at which people of color are charged with possession of marijuana, differences in legalization from state to state are confusing at best, and the legal terms used to differentiate the levels are no help to the average person.
The main difference between decriminalization and legalization is the way that those charged can be held accountable. When a drug is decriminalized, you can still be subjected to other punishments, primarily fines, but you will not be facing jail time. In areas where marijuana is completely legal, you will face no punishment for owning weed that was obtained legally and is under the legal amount.
Half of the reports of drug-related crime in 2010 were for marijuana, and those reports were almost exclusively for people who possessed small amounts of weed, indicating that these people were not drug dealers. These reports are a tremendous waste of time and resources for the police. They shouldn’t be arresting this many people for something that is virtually harmless when there are so many more serious crimes occurring all around us. Police should be spending their time looking into cases that have victims, not arresting teenagers making poor decisions. These unnecessary, and frankly easy, arrests only serve as reputation boosters for the police who claim that they are completing lots of “drug busts.”
The biggest issue with the police in terms of weed is the prejudice that is on display every day. Black people are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for possession when surveys show that white people use marijuana just as much. While white teens are given a slap on the wrist, everyone else is punished more severely which starts their criminal record and sets them on a path that makes them far more likely to go to prison. Weed being illegal is just another way for politicians to throw people of color under the bus and convince us we need more police. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather my city’s funding go somewhere that actually helps people rather than to the police department.
Marijuana is the most commonly used drug that is illegal on the federal level, but studies from Harm Reduction Journal and GoodRx suggest it is less harmful than some legal substances like alcohol and nicotine. This is, in part, because marijuana is frequently consumed without smoking. If the public’s welfare is really the government’s biggest concern, then legalizing weed could be the most effective way to ensure that everyone stays safe. If people are able to purchase marijuana from reliable sources like dispensaries, then the chances of them receiving a product that has been laced with something toxic and far more deadly decreases significantly. Like anything, marijuana should be used in moderation and isn’t something for children, but if it’s being sold in stores that are required by law to check IDs, then shouldn’t that keep more teenagers away from it?
Biden’s pardon was long overdue, but it was a step in the right direction. I will continue to hold out hope that governors across the country will be encouraged to follow suit and realize that weed isn’t this country’s biggest problem. Stop letting politicians use weed as a scapegoat and encourage your government to focus on things that actually matter.