By Dalton Rosario
Despite policy shifts decriminalizing cannabis and legalizing its possession since the issuance of the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment in 2014 and Initiative 71 in 2015, a major segment of the population continues to be disproportionately targeted in our Nation’s capital. Of the 926 cannabis related arrests made in 2017, an overwhelming 841 of these cases involved African Americans and 1:5 were under the age of 21. If we dot not recognize this as a systemic abuse of power then we are turning a blind eye towards social injustice.
What is arguably most concerning about these findings are the unspoken implications of this broken system’s intent. It is a commonly agreed principle that when the youth pursues higher education, a reduction in poverty and crime rates liken to proportionately increased wellbeing and standards of living. However, when charged with a cannabis related crime - whether that be distribution, possession with or without intent to distribute and public consumption - one can no longer apply for and receive federal student aid.
Take a moment to recognize the paradox that is presented. Tuition rates increase every year requiring reliance on federal student loans, grants and scholarships for the majority of students. Cannabis crimes in D.C. have been decreasing historically since reformations have been outlined, yet African Americans continue to be subjugated to this biased and archaic penal system; costing personal time and accruing fines and court fees that do not allow for the issuance of student aid upon completion of probation. To make matters more apparent, in 2017 roughly 45% of cannabis related arrests involved individuals between the ages of 21-29 and only 7.3% of those arrests involved women. As it stands, we are confronting a crucial issue that affects the livelihoods of young men during a critical stage of building future prospects and opportunities.
To fight this ongoing problem we need to take a grass-roots initiative by formalizing scholarships that secure funding for students who are college-bound but opted out due to denial of financial aid. Application of knowledge is the greatest gift we can contribute to our allies. This affects more than offsetting an outdated stigma of social misconduct. This presents a means for betterment where no other alternatives are provided. A call to action that will be heard by the Cannabis Rights Alliance in tandem with joint collaboration from cannabis sympathizers and political platforms throughout our District. You heard it here first folks.