This past week, my home state of Illinois became the next state of several others to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. Given the economic and social incentives that will come with this new legislation, poised to be signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker, it is safe to say that for once I am proud of my native Illinois.
What's also important to note about this new bill is that it also expunges the convictions of those convicted and incarcerated for low levels of cannabis possession, which underscores why the movement to legalize cannabis has always been an issue of equity.
According to ACLU data, 88% of the 8.2 million cannabis-related crimes between 2001 and 2010 are just for possessing cannabis — the data also shows that African Americans are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for such crimes than their white counterparts. It is important to understand that any legislation that legalizes recreational cannabis but does NOT provide the pardoning of every person incarcerated because of cannabis possession prior to the bill, is not worth squat.
The struggle to legalize cannabis has never been about a bunch of 16-year-olds wanting to "live life on the edge" but has been about fighting for those whose lives have been literally thrown away by the state all because of having a bit of weed on them.
The War on Drugs has turned the use of cannabis in any form into a political act — it is inseparable. The culture surrounding the secrecy and discretion of cannabis is the result of this country's strange addiction to incarcerating black and brown people thousands at a time.
With the impending monopolization of cannabis (Pinterest recipes, Anthropologie apothecary, etc.), every blunt passed and dollar spent on these new cannabis-based products will entail a degree of privilege until every man incarcerated for weed possession is freed.
So the bottom line is, while we should indeed celebrate that cannabis will soon be legalized in Illinois and that the new law will provide for the expungement of those incarcerated, our work does not stop.
One problem that we tend to have in political engagement is that we tend to not become engaged in struggles across the country. Just because Illinois has created a sense of equity does not mean we can just sit back and let other states continue to enable the legacy mass incarceration.
Yes, smoke on, but keep on fighting for those that are imprisoned that have done the exact same thing.