Marijuana Legalization and the Continued Arrests - Free Essay Sample

Published: 2024-01-25
Marijuana Legalization and the Continued Arrests - Free Essay Sample
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Law Medicine Marijuana legalization Criminal justice
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1732 words
15 min read


Despite several states across the country legalizing marijuana, there are still reports of people being incarcerated for cases relating to the drug. The purpose of this paper is to explain why such arrests are happening.

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Federal Government

The federal government, under the scheduling system, considers marijuana to be a Schedule 1 drug. That means that the drug is presumed to lack any medical value and has a high probability of abuse. The classification of being a Schedule 1 drug categorizes Cannabis the same as heroin. Also, it makes it more restrictive than drugs such as meth and cocaine, which are classified as Schedule 2 drugs. However, that does not mean that the federal government considers heroin and marijuana to be equally dangerous.

Additionally, the federal government also does not view Cannabis as more dangerous than cocaine or meth (Merino, 2016). Both Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 drugs are said to be highly abusive. That is a vague description that does not classify drugs in different categories as either different or equal.

The major difference between a Schedule 1 drug and a Schedule 2 drug lies in whether the federal government considers a substance has any medical value. The DEA perceives Schedule 2 substances to have some small medical value. On the other hand, schedule 1 drugs, according to the DEA, have medical values and hence receive more regulatory scrutiny despite them being less dangerous. Although there have been numerous calls to reschedule Cannabis, they have however run into some serious hurdles. Traditionally, studies have been required to prove to the federal government that a drug has some medical value, but there have not been any large-scale clinical trials on Cannabis. It is quite difficult to conduct research, especially when a drug is under strict regulations by the federal government (Monte et al., 2015). Marijuana has essentially been trapped in a catch. To be rescheduled, the drug requires a large-scale clinical trial, which would, however, be difficult to conduct until the federal government considers reclassifying.

Legalization advocates have for many years been lobbying Congress to pass legislation that would see marijuana drugs rescheduled. While the scheduling system often plays a major role in shaping criminal penalties for illicit substance sales and possession, it is not the final word. Penalties for Cannabis are often far more relaxed compared to other scheduled drugs. That can party acknowledge that marijuana is not as much of a risk as heroin or other scheduled substances. During the Obama administration, the federal government took a quite relaxed approach to the legalization of Cannabis at the state level. States were generally allowed to do whatever they wished provided they met would meet certain criteria (Merino, 2016). For instance, states were required to ensure that legal Cannabis does not cross the states' lines, and also the drug does not fall into children's hands. However, when Trump came to power, his administration, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, suggested that it would take tougher approaches. These tougher approaches were later backed off by Attorney General William Barr who said he would carry on with the Obama-era policies.

At the federal level, marijuana's criminal classification has serious ramifications even in areas where the state law considers the drug legal. Most state-legal cannabis businesses are forced to only accept cash as a payment mode. That is because banks are often nervous when it comes to dealing with businesses that may be considered breaking federal laws (Pacula & Smart, 2017). Additionally, businesses find it difficult to file for several deductions; hence several of their effective income tax rates could soar excessively high.

A concern arises on whether the federal government will be violating international laws by legalizing Cannabis. Numerous international treaties have explicitly banned countries from legalizing the sale of Cannabis for recreational use. While several states are legalizing marijuana, the federal government insists that it remains in good standing of such international treaties by ensuring Cannabis is kept illegal at the national level. However, if the president and Congress happen to legalize the drug, these treaties might have to be broken.

Although Uruguay and Canada have so far dodged scrutiny because of violating such international treaties, the United States is a much bigger nation. As public opinion and some states continue moving in favor of cannabis legalization, the national government would, in most cases, find itself standing in the way of a reform that a significant number of voters want after witnessing longstanding failures and struggles in the war against substances.

Racial Disparities

Although so many things are accomplished through the legalization of marijuana, it does not stop racial disparities within the criminal justice system. The Drug Policy Alliance, which happens to be a pro-legalization group, recently documented in a report the effects of cannabis legalization in several states (Drug Policy Alliance, 2020). As expected from the report, marijuana arrests have gone down steadily in legal cannabis states. Most of the arrests have been on unlicensed sales, public consumption, and possession by persons under 21 years. From the report, however, things start getting more complicated when data is broken down into races. While arrests have generally declined for racial groups since the drug was legalized, racial disparities have not been halted. Although the legalization of marijuana at the state level has made both white and Black people less likely to be arrested over the drug, it has been noted that black people still have a higher probability of arrest for Cannabis, unlike white people.

Although Alaska legalized marijuana in 2014, it was not until 2016 that people started selling the drug. Since 2012 and 2016, white people fell by almost 99 percent, while for Blacks, it fell by 93 percent (Drug Policy Alliance, 2020). In 2016, marijuana-related arrests for Black people were recorded to be at a rate of 17.7 for every 100,000 people. In the same year, the Cannabis-related arrest rate for white people was at 1.8 for every 100,000 people. Therefore, whites were arrested almost ten times less than Black people for the same crime.

In 2014, Cannabis was decriminalized in Washington DC. The state then only legalized growing and possession but not the sale of the drug. This decision was made through a voter-approved ballot initiative. The arrest rates for possession of the drug dropped by almost 99 percent for whites and Black people. Racial disparities remained (Drug Policy Alliance, 2020). In 2016, the rate of arrest for Blacks was 8 for every 100,000 people. When it comes to Whites, the arrest rate was four times less, at 2 for every 100,000 people.

Colorado is one of the first two states that legalized Cannabis in 2012 and reports similar incidents of racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests. The Colorado Department of Public Safety published a 2016 report that found a tremendous decrease in the number of Cannabis related arrests (Hilkey et al., 2020). According to the report, the arrests of Americans had decreased by 25 percent, 33 percent for Hispanics, while for white Americans, these arrests had dropped by about 51 percent (Hilkey et al., 2020). While the marijuana arrests for both Hispanics and Whites are comparable, Blacks' arrest was almost thrice that of white Americans. For whites, it was 123 per 100,000, while for African Americans, the rate was 348 per 100,000 people (Hilkey et al., 2020).

Edible Marijuana

Cannabis legalization in states that have it is going fine. When the motion was still on the ballot, John Hickenlooper, the then-governor of Colorado State, opposed this legalization. Hickenlooper has, however, been quoted, as saying, "the things I feared six years ago have not come to pass" (Cohn, 2020). While Colorado has seen a rise in the number of adults who use Cannabis, the number of youth has not risen. Although there have been concerns regarding drug-impaired car crushes, the available pieces of evidence are mixed up. One concern surrounds the risks involved with marijuana edibles.

Since edibles often take quite long before they can take effect, they have a high likelihood of causing a cannabis overdose (Wolf & Wolf, 2016). While this may not be a deadly event, it would cause a person to be paranoid and act strangely. Critics of marijuana legalization argue irresponsible marketing of edible Cannabis as it often takes the form of a child-friendly snack. Therefore, since this drug's legalization, regulators and law enforcement officers have taken tougher approaches toward edible marijuana. Some of this edible marijuana has also been banned completely. The sale, possession, or use of this certain edible Cannabis has also contributed to the continued incarcerations despite some states legalizing the drug.


Although states have legalized marijuana use, people are still being arrested in cases relating to the drug. While this paper aims to determine why we have these incarcerations, federal government legislation and racial disparities were determined as the most reasonable explanations for these arrests. While states and voters have supported cannabis legalization, the national government has constantly stood in the way. Unlike the state government, the federal government is forced to abide by numerous international treaties and require countries to illegalize the sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes.

Since fewer people from all races are getting arrested annually for marijuana, it proves that the legalization advocates are making progress. Despite this progress, racial disparities still exist within the criminal justice system. These disparities cannot be explained by varying use of Cannabis among Black and White people, as the survey indicates both white and Black Americans use the drug at the same level (ACLU, 2020). It appears as though there is some level of business that has been built within the criminal justice system.

These could be individual racial biases among law enforcement officers. It has to do with how police are often disproportionately deployed in minority areas since it is presumed that these communities have high crime levels. Socioeconomic disparities may also drive some groups. For instance, the frequent sale and use of substances outdoors rather than indoors. Such factors work to ensure racial disparities within the criminal justice system.


Monte, A. A., Zane, R. D., & Heard, K. J. (2015). The implications of marijuana legalization in Colorado. Jama, 313(3), 241-242.

Pacula, R. L., & Smart, R. (2017). Medical marijuana and marijuana legalization. Annual review of clinical psychology, 13, 397-419.

ACLU. (2020). New ACLU Report Finds Overwhelming Racial Bias in Marijuana Arrests. American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved 8 December 2020, from

Cohn, A. (2020). Hickenlooper: The federal government shouldn't decide whether to legalize marijuana. TheHill. Retrieved 8 December 2020, from

Drug Policy Alliance. (2020). From Prohibition to Progress: A Status Report on Marijuana Legalization. Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved 8 December 2020, from

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