The question of whether the federal government will crack down on Washington and Colorado marijuana’s state-legalized marijuana businesses is an interesting one mainly because of how it will impact the supply chain and marijuana prices, but it’s important to understand that what the federal government does will have no impact on whether people will be able to smoke a joint without fear in those states. They’ll definitely be able to do that.
And they’ll be able to do it because, with state and local police officers completely out of the enforcement game, the federal government is not going to waste its time prosecuting the lowest-level offenders. It’ll have to concentrate its resources on bigger, actually important targets like major suppliers, not workaday marijuana smokers.
That’s what’s interesting about Philly Councilman Jim Kenney’s proposal to turn marijuana possession into a simple ($200) ticketed offense, not one you get arrested for and taken down to the police station. With Philly police largely out of the personal marijuana use enforcement game, who’s going to be aggressively enforcing that law? State police? The DEA?
No. It’s just going to be a lot easier to get away with smoking marijuana in Philadelphia. If you want to be a dumbass and smoke in public, you’re gonna get a ticket. But if you act like an otherwise law-abiding citizen and smoke at home, and don’t do anything to attract police attention when you’re carrying it, pot is basically legal for you.
Now, “attract police attention” can often mean “be black in a public place” so racial profiling is still going to mean non-white males getting harassed by cops more often, because let’s be honest. Black males account for 89% of Philly’s marijuana arrests! And not because they actually smoke at higher rates!
Young black men are going to end up paying more marijuana tickets than white people, and that’s a huge problem that can’t be dismissed. But it’s still significant that even if the law does nothing to discourage racial profiling by police officers, it’ll still result in better outcomes for non-white people because getting arrested and processed through the criminal justice system is a whole different level of problem than getting a ticket.
We need more comprehensive change, but while we’re waiting for that to happen, we can stop treating a whole lot of people like criminals for possessing a plant that even the President of the United States admits is no worse than alcohol.