Social Justice

Ending marijuana prohibition would be a victory for social justice

Marijuana prohibition has long been a pillar of the so-called “war on drugs,” which is more accurately described as a war on people. Ending marijuana prohibition in Rhode Island would represent an important and necessary step towards ending this failed and harmful approach, which has ruined lives and destroyed families for decades. Thousands of Rhode Islanders have received criminal records for low-level marijuana offenses, making it more difficult for them to access employment, loans, affordable housing, and social services. Federal statistics show that people of color in Rhode Island have been disproportionately targeted by marijuana prohibition laws, despite similar use rates compared to whites. According to an analysis from the ACLU, blacks were 2.6 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession from 2001 to 2010.[1]

According to data from the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts, court filings for low-level marijuana offenses by adults 21 years of age and older dropped 98% after voters approved I-502, the initiative that legalized marijuana for adult use in Washington.[2] Similarly, arrests for marijuana possession and arrests for cultivating and distributing marijuana dropped by 84% and 90%, respectively, in Colorado between 2010 and 2014.[3] 

Under the 2017 Rhode Island Cannabis Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act, individuals with prior charges for low-level marijuana offenses would be allowed to retroactively expunge their records. Additionally, the legislation mandates that state regulators “set forth procedures to award [marijuana business] registrations in a manner that promotes diversity within the cannabis industry and creates economic opportunities for minority and women-owned business enterprises.”


[1] ACLU, The War on Marijuana in Black and White (2013), p. 174, http://riaclu.org/images/uploads/The_War_on_Marijuana_in_Black_and_White-_Rhode_Island.pdf

[2] ACLU of Washington State, Court Filings for Adult Marijuana Possession Plummet (2014), https://aclu-wa.org/news/courtfilings-adult-marijuana-possession-plummet

[3] Drug Policy Alliance, (2015) Marijuana Legalization in Colorado: One-Year Status Report (2015), http://www.drugpolicy.org/resource/marijuana-legalization-colorado-one-year-status-report