Terms of Surrender: Marijuana legalization in the United States

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Marijuana prohibition can seem like a joke, especially to people like me—White, middle-class Americans living in politically progressive (and often cannabis infused) communities such as coastal California, where I grew up, or Southern Maine, where I now live. For many like us, “Reefer Madness” seems a ridiculous relic of a much less enlightened age. Stoners and dealers—from Cheech and Chong to Harold and Kumar and on to the Pineapple Express—are funny, not dangerous felons.

And then maybe someone we know gets arrested. For me, it was my friend Valerie, a member of that least-likely-to-be-arrested demographic: an economically secure White woman living in that most liberal of enclaves: Santa Cruz, California. Because she was growing five marijuana plants in her home garden, she was charged with felony cultivation. As I quickly learned, far from being a joke, marijuana prohibition is an ongoing horror show. It involves almost 700,000 arrests each year, 88% of them for possession. Huge numbers of Americans are being imprisoned, sometimes for decades, for marijuana offenses. In fact, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, at least 69 people are serving life sentences for non-violent pot crimes.