Jan 21, 2022
arrestees, arrests, cannabis arrests, cannabis possession, collateral consequences, criminal defense attorneys, criminal record, decrim, decriminalization, enforcement, expungement, jail, law enforcement, prosecutors, racial profiling, racism, record sealing, share your story
This is Tahir's story — Tell us yours
I’m Tahir Johnson, MPP’s director of social equity and inclusion. I’m also one of the 15 million Americans who have been arrested for cannabis possession over the past 25 years. Twice.
Just as cannabis prohibition was borne of racism, the enforcement of cannabis laws is also inherently racist. Both of my arrests represent cases in racial profiling — both times I was pulled over for non-reasons, guilty of being young, Black, and driving a nice car.
My first arrest happened in Maryland in the early 2000s, long before cannabis was decriminalized in the state. The officer who pulled me over approached my car with his gun drawn (for his safety) and said, “you look like a drug dealer.” I did have a nickel bag on me, which I admitted in the wake of threats to destroy my treasured Lexus searching for it. I was locked up and charged with possession, but thanks to my family collecting money to hire a lawyer, I was able to complete diversion and probation and have my record expunged.
My second arrest occurred several years later in D.C., again before cannabis was decriminalized there. Since I worked in the insurance industry at the time, I was driving a Benz, which the arresting officer repeatedly commented on. He searched me, found a bag in my pocket, and I was arrested and spent a scary night in jail thinking about how this arrest would impact my future. I wasn’t able to hire an attorney for this charge, but the prosecutor ended up being a fellow Howard University alum who didn’t want to destroy another young Black man’s future over something so trivial, so he dropped the charge. (Even though the charge was dropped, the arrest record would still haunt me for a while given the intense background checks in the finance industry, until the record was eventually sealed in the wake of the District’s decriminalization ordinance.)
It’s unjust and inhumane that millions of otherwise law-abiding Americans are stopped, searched, arrested, and branded criminals simply for possessing a plant that is safer than alcohol. In the end, I was blessed. In the first case, my middle-class family was able to afford a lawyer for my defense, and in the second, I was lucky to encounter a prosecutor who understood the folly — and racist nature — of our nation’s cannabis laws. If I hadn’t been so lucky, I know my life trajectory could have been very different. And I also realize that many others haven’t been so fortunate.
This is where you come in. The millions of cannabis arrests in the U.S. over the last 25 years have caused humiliation, trauma, lost jobs, evictions, deportations, derailed dreams — and even death. But far too few of the stories have been told.
If you’re one of the millions of people who have suffered the injustice of having your freedom put in jeopardy for a plant that is safer than alcohol, we want to hear from you. We also want to hear from law enforcement, criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors, and other witnesses to cannabis prohibition who think it’s past time governments stop locking up cannabis users.
My past arrests have fueled my passion for cannabis advocacy. Despite all the progress we’ve made, there are still 19 states where a joint can land you in jail and haunt you with a criminal record. Please consider sharing your experience with us so we can tell the stories of why this war on people who use cannabis must end. And please share this with anyone you know who has endured the devastating effects of the war on cannabis.