Cover Story

After prohibition: What will marijuana policy reform look like?

In July 2012, a SWAT team entered the Philadelphia home of Leon and Mary Adams and carried away the couple’s adult son Leon Jr., who had sold $20 worth of marijuana to a police informant. A month later, with Adams still awaiting trial, the city moved to seize his parents’ home and sell it at auction. The case was still pending last August when Sarah Stillman reported on it in the New Yorker. “With this hanging over our heads,” Mary Adams told Stillman, “it’s devastating.”

It’s a tragic story, but not an exceptional one. It represents the reality of America’s militarized approach to regulating marijuana: extreme enforcement tactics targeting mostly African Americans on the basis of often trivially small amounts of pot.

The war-on-drugs approach to marijuana has become a crisis. As the moral and fiscal costs of enforcement mount, objections to this long-standing status quo are being raised with new urgency. Just months after Leon Adams Jr. was arrested, voters in Colorado and Washington State approved measures to legalize marijuana, taking a bold step beyond the 20 other states and the District of Columbia that already allow for the medical use of the substance.