The War on Cannabis Is Not Over

A protester holds a sign reading “Free the plant, free the people” on March 29, 2022, during a rally in Chicago, Illinois. BRIAN CASSELLA / CHICAGO TRIBUNE / TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE VIA GETTY IMAGES

The War on Cannabis Is Not Over


As the number of states that are enacting laws to legalize cannabis and the level of public support for its legalization continue to rise, it may appear reasonable to assume that the governing authorities have concluded their campaign against cannabis. Nonetheless, Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a distinguished author known for his work “Seeing Through the Smoke: A Cannabis Specialist Untangles the Truth about Marijuana,” considers such an assumption premature. The war on cannabis persists, inflicting significant casualties on communities of color. Dr. Grinspoon, a primary care physician and cannabis specialist affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, closely monitors the political landscape surrounding marijuana and advocates for an end to the war on cannabis, reparations for affected communities, and the expungement of criminal records. Only then can we definitively declare victory in the battle against cannabis.

Peter Handel: With the growing acceptance of marijuana through legalization, many of us might believe that the days of being arrested for simple possession are behind us. Is this belief accurate?

Peter Grinspoon: No. While arrests nationwide have been decreasing annually, we have not completely overcome the issue. Medical cannabis is now legal in 38 states, and 23 states have legalized recreational or “adult-use” cannabis. However, numerous states still criminalize different forms of cannabis use, resulting in hundreds of thousands of arrests each year for simple possession. These arrests continue to disproportionately affect individuals from racial minority groups. We still have a considerable amount of work to do, not only in terms of legalizing cannabis to halt these arrests, but also in rebuilding the communities that have been devastated by the War on Cannabis. This includes granting pardons, expunging criminal records, and reinvesting profits generated by the thriving cannabis industry back into the affected communities to foster their revival.

What are the far-reaching economic and social consequences of criminalizing the use of cannabis?

The extent of these consequences is immeasurable. To begin, we have witnessed over 20 million arrests for simple, nonviolent possession of cannabis since the initiation of the “war on drugs.” Having an arrest on record can hinder educational prospects, impede student loan applications, affect housing and employment opportunities, and even result in the loss of child custody. The repercussions can endure throughout an individual’s lifetime. Additionally, the militarization of local law enforcement agencies in the fight against the war on drugs has proven to be both costly and detrimental to communities. Millions of people have been denied access to a relatively safe, non-toxic, plant-based medication and instead forced to rely on conventional pharmaceuticals, often accompanied by greater risks. The criminalization of cannabis has likely worsened the opioid crisis. Furthermore, this criminalization has significantly impeded research into both the harms and benefits of cannabis, as it creates substantial obstacles at all stages of research. Finally, by criminalizing any form of drug use, we amplify the inherent dangers associated with drug consumption (such as limited access to a safe drug supply, including cannabis) and exacerbate the challenges faced by individuals struggling with addiction, as they would need to admit to engaging in illegal activities that could lead to legal trouble.


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