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Our view: Things change

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Marijuana plants are pictured at the Baker’s marijuana nursery at Baker Medical in Oklahoma City in 2020.

President Joe Biden is, as a reader pointed out to us recently, not so much “Sleepy Joe” after all. Agree or disagree with his policies, he doesn’t seem to spend much time napping — or on the golf course or watching TV. Instead, in the midst of a busy travel and work schedule, he unveils new forward-pushing policies regularly — some of which are real game-changers.

One of the most notable so far is his overhaul of U.S. policy on cannabis, announced last week. Biden has pardoned thousands of people with federal offenses for simple marijuana possession.

The pardons not only fulfill a campaign promise, but do so for the most noble reasons: racial justice and civil rights.

“Criminal records for marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities,” the president said. “And that’s before you address the racial disparities around who suffers the consequences. While white, Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

He’s right. As the ACLU has stated following studies, marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

The pardon will restore the offenders’ political, civil and other rights, Biden said — including, no doubt, voting rights.

Biden also initiated a federal review of how the drug is classified and invited the nation’s governors to duplicate his decision on the state level.

Biden’s pardons actually will have a very limited practical effect — some 6,500 offenders are expected to be pardoned. But reviewing the schedule classification of cannabis — currently on the same level as heroin and LSD, but above fentanyl — could reshape federal policy dramatically, possibly leading to federal legalization.

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs,” Biden said. “Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.”

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper followed the announcement by urging the Republican-led state legislature to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, as recommended by the N.C. Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, the Journal’s John Hinton reported last week.

“Keeping people safe from violent crime while making the criminal justice system fairer is the right thing to do,” Cooper said. “We need to end this stigma that can keep people from getting jobs and make sure law enforcement keeps its focus on fighting violent crime, drug traffickers and other threats to safe communities.”

Shares of cannabis stocks — legal cannabis production represents a worldwide market in the billions — surged following Biden’s announcement.

We realize that opinions about marijuana use differ widely. Some approve the use of medical marijuana for pain and nausea relief while still condemning its recreational use.

For others, this will be a non-issue. Thirty-seven states (North Carolina is not one) and D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Willie Nelson and Martha Stewart have placed their names on brands.

But we should all be a long way past the days of “Reefer Madness” — hysterical propaganda that associates the use of cannabis with a myriad of unsavory and illegal behaviors that seem cartoonish today. Many readers would be surprised to discover which and how many of their neighbors partake regularly while still holding down jobs and sending their children to school each day.

These changes should still be approached cautiously. As marijuana is further legalized, it’s one product that most would agree needs to be heavily regulated — and vigorously taxed.

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