This week, President Biden announced plans to pardon thousands of people who have federal convictions for marijuana possession on their records. He is also asking his administration to explore whether the plant should be removed from the list of Schedule 1 drugs like heroin. The move could have an immediate impact on the estimated 6,500 people convicted of marijuana possession federally between 1992 and 2021. It could also have a much longer-term impact on the economy: by in not only shifting the country’s treatment of marijuana users and growers, but also opening up economic opportunity for them and for the country.
One things that’s clear: marijuana is here to stay. Over half of Americans report using it in their lifetime. 43% of young people ages 19-30 reported using it in 2021. In 2021, a Gallup poll also found that 68% of Americans favored legalizing recreational marijuana use, the highest this stat has ever been.
There are many reasons that people favor legalization, such as embracing the medical uses of marijuana for illnesses like cancer. But there’s also strong economic rationales for legalizing marijuana and expanding pardons of marijuana convictions at the state level, where the majority of convictions lie.
Here’s some of the good things that pardoning minor drug convictions and legalizing marijuana could do:
1. Children and families will stay out of poverty. In his remarks announcing the pardons, Biden noted, “criminal records for marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities.” This not only impacts convicted adults, but their children who need access to public housing and benefits just as much as their parents. Biden also noted the racialized impacts of marijuana criminalization: “While white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.” And that means that Black and brown families have born the brunt of the economic burden over generations, and stand to benefit greatly from the elimination of racialized drug enforcement.
2. Employers will benefit by hiring the best candidates. There has been a strong movement nationally for what is called “Ban the Box,” keeping criminal background checks out of the employment process on the understanding that if you’ve served your sentence, you deserve to be fully reintegrated into society. There are of course some instances where a criminal history may preclude someone from a position—there’s a reason registered sex offenders do not work in schools—but its hard to imagine a job where possessing marijuana at some point in your past would make you reasonably ineligible. Therefore pardons that remove cannabis possession from someone’s record helps take the blinders off of employers who hold prejudice against those with criminal records—and thus helps them in turn hire the best candidates.
3. Local budgets can go where they belong. In 2018, 37% of drug arrests nationally were for marijuana possession. If you’ve ever had the experience of waiting around for a cop to arrive at your home after a burglary, you might prefer that the police focus on more serious crimes, or that the money being used to arrest and process someone go towards education, housing or actual crime prevention.
What if instead of arresting 600,000 people for marijuana possession in 2022, we fed 600,000 more children? Or built addiction treatment centers for actually addictive substances like opioids? These are the sorts of real tradeoffs municipalities have to make in their budgets every year, and where for far too long, marijuana-related arrests have taken up too much space.
So while federal pardons are a step in the right direction, there is much to do at the state level, and opportunities to further improve the American economy by fully legalizing cannabis and expunging records of all minor cannabis convictions, not just possession. Policy makers should be tracking public sentiment about cannabis legalization, and take advantage of the current political will to make long-lasting changes in their communities.
Full disclosures related to my work available here. This post does not constitute investment, tax, or legal advice, and the author is not responsible for any actions taken based on the information provided herein. Certain information referenced in this article is provided via third-party sources and while such information is believed to be reliable, the author and Candide Group assume no responsibility for such information.
World News || Latest News || U.S. News