In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and classified marijuana under Schedule I, a designation reserved for drugs considered to be highly addictive and that have no accepted medical use. But the decision to classify marijuana alongside heroin and PCP (fentanyl and cocaine, for comparison, are classified under Schedule II) was wholly unrelated to the drug’s scientific and addictive properties.
In the decades since, the War on Drugs—and the war on marijuana in particular—has been a long and costly campaign of injustice waged by Democrats and Republicans alike. It has inflicted misery upon millions of Black Americans whose lives have been destroyed by selective enforcement. The devastation came not just from arrests, jail time, and lengthy prison sentences (some people have been sentenced to life without parole for marijuana offenses), but also sweeping collateral consequences: the loss of voting rights, housing, employment, and federal benefits; separation from families and communities; and lost custody of children. Marijuana enforcement, and drug enforcement at large, does not promote public safety, but it does enforce and exacerbate systemic racism within the nation’s criminal legal system.
These policies have especially deadly consequences amid the ongoing pandemic and economic crisis. Arresting and incarcerating people for drug use risks spreading the coronavirus behind bars and throughout the broader community.