On September 8th, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke to students at Amherst College about the importance of hard work, voting, and being passionate about something. Unless that something is legalizing marijuana. “I don’t care what kind of thing you become passionate about, except legalizing marijuana,” Sotomayor said to a group of 600 students, many of whom statistics would suggest are passionate about marijuana policy reform. Two SSDP students from the District of Columbia took issue with Sotomayor´s comments, and would like to share why they feel passionate about marijuana legalization.
Nick Watkins, George Washington University
Dear Justice Sotomayor,
Last Tuesday, you spoke to Amherst College students and urged them to find their passion. While your comments were generally positive, one particular statement disturbed me. Speaking about the lack of faith in our system of governance, you said, “I don’t care what kind of thing you become passionate about, except legalizing marijuana.” While I greatly your work, as a student activist passionate about improving drug policy, this statement offended me.
When you make comments like this, you diminishe the work that young people do in reversing the horrific effects that the War on Drugs has had on communities across the United States, particularly those of color. Between 2001 and 2010, 7 million people were arrested for marijuana possession. Despite almost equal rates of usage, Black people are almost four times as likely to get arrested for marijuana than white people. We, as a generation, are burdened with the unjust drug policies implemented by the generations that preceded us. But according to you, being passionate about ending marijuana prohibition is not acceptable.
Last Fall, I worked on Initiative 71, the campaign to legalize marijuana in the District of Columbia. My Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter encouraged students to vote, registering many first-time voters who previously had no interest in casting a ballot. As a result, Precinct 2, largely made up of GW students, boasted the highest rate of support for marijuana legalization in the District. It was a proud moment for many of us, whose only incentive to work was passion.
What I’ve learned from this experience is that marijuana legalization excites young people, not because they seek to get high in their dorm rooms, but because they recognize that prohibition is not a sensible system. Instead of diminishing our passion towards marijuana legalization, I urge you to consider viewing marijuana legalization as a gateway issue to initiate political engagement among those members of my generation who feel apathetic or powerless about the world.
Passion is a much-needed force in our current political landscape, so let’s celebrate my generation’s passion, even if it’s about marijuana legalization.
President, George Washington University SSDP
Class of 2017
Imani Oakley, Howard University School of Law
Dear Justice Sotomayor,
Recently, you spoke to a group of students at Amherst College and implied that working towards the legalization of marijuana is an endeavor unworthy of the attention of passionate young people. This assertion cannot be further from the truth.
There are many reasons why the legalization of marijuana is a great cause for any young professional to advocate, including, but certainly not limited to: (1) the ability to generate millions of dollars in revenue for states and local governments, (2) increasing opportunities for entrepreneurship, and (3) reducing the ill health effects of the black-market through proper state regulation.
Additionally, as a Hispanic woman who has risen to the pinnacle of our justice system, I am truly surprised that you seem to have overlooked the important role that legalizing marijuana would play in counteracting some of the gross detrimental effects of the War on Drugs. Thoughtful policies aimed at the legalization of marijuana would not only help to alleviate the abuse that people of color suffer at the hands of law enforcement, but it could also assist in the growth of Black and Brown owned businesses in this sector, thus facilitating economic growth in these communities.
As a woman of color myself, I am proud that you are serving on our country’s Supreme Court. However, with great power comes great responsibility, and I request that you choose your words more carefully when addressing students regarding the legalization of marijuana.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Imani R. Oakley
Howard University, 2017