A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has introduced historic legislation to legalize marijuana, and if the United States is smart, it will follow in its northern neighbor’s footsteps.
Unfortunately, the Canadian government’s plan to legalize and regulate marijuana sales is in stark contrast with the current administration’s attitude in the United States. In recent weeks, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has vowed to revamp “The War on Drugs” and went as far as saying marijuana is “only slightly less awful than heroin.”
It’s almost redundant to point out how absurd the comparison is, considering heroin and other opioid pain relievers associated with it caused more than 20,000 deadly overdoses in 2015, while marijuana didn’t cause any (and never has). If you were to take into account the health care costs and emotional damage done to families who are simply battling opioid addiction, the comparison becomes infuriatingly stupid.
But worse than a dumb comparison is the ramifications of it.
If Sessions lives up to his word, we will once again see an increase in men and women going to jail for nonviolent marijuana offenses while our neighbor becomes the second country in the world to legalize marijuana across the board. While those being imprisoned for marijuana offenses here will be thrown away for longer periods of time thanks to increased enforcement of mandatory minimum sentences, Canada will be celebrating an economic boom thanks to legalization.
The damage marijuana offenses are already doing to communities across the country is tough to put into words, but plenty of people have tried. The simple truth is that the punishment for marijuana possession, use or dealing in strict anti-marijuana states does more damage to a person than the actual possession, use or selling of marijuana in the first place.
Some 40,000 people are currently incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses, and in 2015 more than 643,000 people were arrested for marijuana-related charges.
As a result of these arrests, men, women, and teenagers who have done little harm to their community endure a great deal of harm on themselves. Thousands become ineligible for work, lose the ability to get financial aid for college, can’t vote, do short stints in prison that lead to a life of crime, or simply become demonized by the people around them. With a permanent record or the inability to go to college, people with minor marijuana offenses often lose their prospects for a successful future.