Though both Colorado and Washington passed legislation Tuesday to legalize recreational use of marijuana, the battle to decriminalize the drugs use has not ended. Many Colorado citizens cheered as official results were announced, but their merriment will be short-lived, as the federal ban on the substance has not changed.
Though the legislation is not the end of the war against marijuana, the continued effort to change state laws is still a step in the right direction for those in favor of decriminalization.
Regardless of ones views toward marijuana whether it is a horrible drug or a recreational party favor the legality of the drug is a completely different issue.
The U.S. spends an abundance of money and resources fighting marijuana use that, in the end, just ends up incarcerating mostly young minority males. Between 1996 and 2010, there were more than 10 million arrests for possession of marijuana, according to drugwarfacts.org, and that number does not include arrests for trafficking or selling.
According to CBS News, though drug use among blacks and whites is the same, three of four people incarcerated for drug possession are black.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said legislation, like that passed in Colorado, would save the $10 billion in taxpayer money every year that is used to enforce marijuana laws.
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, marijuana is still a Schedule I Controlled Substance meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use in treatment along with drugs such as LSD, heroin and ecstacy. The classification has not changed since it was created in 1973.
In 2007, only 288,000 people reportedly received medical treatment for marijuana use, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, while more than 775,000 people
were arrested for possession that year. While both the rehab and imprisonment scenarios use public resources, one comes with care and treatment while the other comes with a metal cell and a criminal record.
Drug use will undoubtedly be a subject of much debate for years to come. But the way marijuana legalization is viewed needs to change: high minority incarceration rates must not be ignored when considering the issue.
Though legalizing marijuana may not be in Americas best interests, the severity of the crime needs to be reevaluated so that the U.S. can better work toward racial equality, incarcerate less Americans and allow law enforcement to spend time and resources on more important issues.
Robert Scime is a senior majoring in mass communications.