4/20: A Retrospective Meditation on Legalization

Another 4/20 has come and gone, following behind Bicycle Day (April 19th), which commemorates Dr. Albert Hoffman’s first LSD trip. This two-day celebration of acid and cannabis culture comes bittersweet, celebrating the culture and substances many love while we’re still in the midst of the ongoing conflict known as the War on Drugs.

In recent years, the cannabis legalization movement has made many strides, legalizing medical and even recreational cannabis in many states. Despite the pushback both locally and federally, the legalization movement has by and large done what it promised: it has made a few handfuls of entrepreneurs rich off the demand built up by those whose livelihoods have been threatened by both the drug war and now the subsequent legalization.

The way many legalization regulations are written, growing, manufacturing, and retail licenses are usually extremely restricted, sometimes only to companies already in agricultural or medical fields or limited to only long-running businesses, thus squashing the potential for small-scale competition. In areas where competition is a little more open, those with previous drug felonies are still restricted from working or owning businesses in the legalized industry, banning the very people who have long-term experience in the field.

In places where cannabis has been legalized, the laws are not retroactive, meaning that those caught before the change in laws do not benefit by having their criminal records erased and many still are rotting in prison for previous drug charges. Cannabis legalization means absolutely nothing if it does not address mass incarceration. For that, we need to ensure that these laws are retroactive, wiping the records clean of all previous drug offenders and releasing them from prison enslavement.

And it is exactly the issue of mass incarceration that requires us to push beyond cannabis and call for the absolute decriminalization of all drugs and the retroactive release and forgiveness of all drug war prisoners. In fact, the issue of mass incarceration is an issue at the heart of the intersection of many important movements of our time, including movements against police brutality such as Black Lives Matter, movements against prison slavery such as Operation PUSH, the sex worker rights movement, movements opposing gun control, the Ban the Box movement, and many more. As long as there are profit and power in prison slavery, the cycle will continue.

So while you’re recovering from Bicycle Day, National Smokeout Day, or both, just remember that many of our comrades are still behind bars for the very same substances we enjoy and that none of us are truly free to enjoy ourselves in this way until these problems are solved. So fight for legalization, sure, but let’s also work towards abolishing the prison system, the police force that enforces it, and all the baggage that comes with them.

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