Evanson: Legal reefer madness

BY KEITH EVANSON | MAY 06, 2015 5:00 AM

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In current day Denver, a cashier at any one of the many dispensaries will gladly (and legally) send you on your way with a warm, friendly smile and seven grams of marijuana. If you’re a resident of the state, not only can you buy up to an ounce of the stuff, but you can also grow it yourself.

Colorado is now allowing businesses there to vertically integrate the growing, processing, and retail sales of marijuana, the Nixon-dubbed “War on Drugs” seems to be all but lost in a cloud of smoke – a purple haze even.

But what about all the people who were convicted of doing the same as our friends in Colorado? I’m not talking about the Pablo Escobars of the world who smuggled loads of highly addictive cocaine into the United States from Colombia with a massive Learjet, or the Breaking Bad Walter Whites who prey on addicts with crystal meth contrived with toxic household items.

No, the people who need to be granted redemption are those who are currently incarcerated by laws that don’t even exist anymore. Former prisoners of the War on Drugs who distributed or used marijuana should be freed.

While your personal stance on whether or not it should be federally decriminalized or even legalized is ultimately up to you, it still makes a lot of sense to grant amnesty to people convicted of past crimes related to marijuana use in places where it is now taxed and regulated (Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and the District of Columbia). Not only is it the right thing to do ethically, but it’s also the practical thing.

Prisons are severely overcrowded and the War on Drugs is much to blame. More than half of all prison inmates in the United States are locked up for drug related offenses, marijuana being the most common. Bigger prison facilities have to be built to contain these past offenders, and even worse, in many cases they aren’t built; dangerous overcrowding has led to poor sanitary conditions and puts correctional officers at risk by increasing the stress of the inmates. It makes sense to implement a reform.

If the three aforementioned states and the capital of the United States are any indication to where future marijuana legislation is headed, all signs are pointing to a major repair in federal marijuana legislation. When this does happen, what are we going to tell the incarcerated after they see the headlines? Tough break, you should have waited until the year 2020 to start dealing pot.

The injustice that permeates the criminal-justice system is well documented. To correct the injustice, to right the wrong, it begins with granting amnesty. How this will be executed will be tricky. There is a plethora of people all across the United States who would be affected by a pardon such as this. Each one will have a different set of legal convictions and circumstances. Perhaps his or her past marijuana use was a violation of probation for a previous, unrelated crime they had committed. Some have been serving for more than 20 years because of their repeated marijuana offenses. How could we even begin to compensate former prisoners who’ve served precious years of their life because of a crime that’s no longer a crime anymore?

The repair logically can begin in places like Colorado. As the rest of the nation has watched curiously to see how the Rocky Mountain state would fare after passing progressive marijuana legislation, it makes sense to also use the state as a launching pad for refining and preparing marijuana amnesty programs.

To prepare the country for inevitable federal overhaul, Colorado could lead the way in not only marijuana production -- but also for crucial criminal-justice reform.

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