There is a continuing, growing gap between the haves and have-nots when it comes to economic opportunity in the U.S., but there may be an unexpected solution — marijuana. According to a new policy brief from a nonpartisan think tank, the drug that in 1980 President Ronald Reagan called “probably the most dangerous drug in the United States” could be the answer to the economic distress it has caused minorities for decades.
For decades, the overcriminalization of marijuana possession has led to increased incarceration rates of African American and Latinx individuals, depleting their communities of breadwinners and workers. Even today, despite its decriminalization, minorities are disproportionately criminalized for marijuana activity. Case in point: in 2017, people of color made up 86 percent of marijuana arrests in New York.
For the formerly incarcerated, a recent analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative showed that more than 27 percent are unemployed, which is higher than the overall unemployment rate during the Great Depression. In addition to being unable to find decent jobs, their criminal records have left them out of opportunities to invest or work in the legalized marijuana industry — an industry projected to rake in billions of dollars over the next 10-20 years.
So as states loosen, or completely do away with, laws criminalizing marijuana, the Center for American Progress (CAP) is calling on lawmakers to use tax revenue from marijuana sales to create public-sector jobs specifically for communities affected by the war on marijuana.
In its latest issue brief, “Using Marijuana Revenue to Create Jobs,” CAP identified some of those jobs as support services in schools and libraries, outreach and peer support to people struggling with substance misuse by trained and certified graduates of treatment programs, support for after-school or summer enrichment programs, and delivery of meals to seniors and other home-bound individuals.
The impact could be a boon to highly-distressed communities which have been trapped in poverty. In 2018, California received $345 million in excise marijuana tax revenue. That same year, Washington state received $314.8 million, which went to fund Medicaid. The authors of the CAP brief calculate that the revenues in those two states could have created nearly 20,000 jobs.
In addition to funding the creation of public service jobs, the authors also recommend providing automatic and cost-free expungements of marijuana arrest and conviction records, reinvesting in essential services for communities most harmed by the war on drugs, and promoting equitable licensing systems and funding for minority-owned businesses.
There are efforts underway that provide this kind of support, according to the CAP brief.
New Jersey’s U.S. Senator Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act of 2019 proposes a community reinvestment fund that would provide grants to communities most affected by the war on drugs. The grants would support programming focused on job training, re-entry services, expungement of convictions, health education, and other community initiatives.
This month, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker included a similar proposal in his plan to legalize recreational marijuana in his state. The plan calls for 25 percent of all revenue from regulated marijuana sales to fund the Restoring Our Communities grant program, which would be used to repair communities most harmed by “discriminatory drug policies.”
You can read the Center for American Progress’ full brief here.