New Report Shows Marijuana Arrests Unfairly Target Blacks

June 30th, 2010 31 Comments Kate Zawidzki

On the same day that the California NAACP endorsed that state’s ballot initiative to end marijuana prohibition (now officially named Proposition 19), our allies at the Drug Policy Alliance released a new study that shines a light on the systemic racial bias behind marijuana arrests taking place all across California.

Among the report’s findings:

  • “In every one of the 25 largest counties in California, blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at higher rates than whites, typically at double, triple or even quadruple the rate of whites,” even though “U.S. government studies consistently find that young blacks use marijuana at lower rates than young whites.”
  • “In Los Angeles County, with nearly ten million residents and over a quarter of California’s population, blacks are arrested at over triple the rate of whites. Blacks are less than 10 percent of L.A. County’s population, but they are 30 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession.”
  • “Police in other California counties, even those with relatively few blacks or relatively low rates of marijuana arrests, still arrest blacks at much higher rates than whites. African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at nearly three times the rate of whites in Solano County, and at three to four times the rate of whites in Sonoma, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco counties.”

The report, written by Prof. Harry Levine of Queens College, finds this overwhelming racial bias to be a “system-wide phenomenon” and not just the result of a handful of racist cops. That’s because most narcotics officers are assigned to patrol so-called “high-crime” neighborhoods that are disproportionately low-income and minority. In those neighborhoods—as in nearly all neighborhoods—the most likely, or easiest arrest an officer can make is for marijuana possession. If we want to end this racial bias, we need to end the laws that allow it to occur. Come November, California voters will have an opportunity to do just that.

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Medical Marijuana

ACLU Sues Wal-Mart For Firing Michigan Medical Marijuana Patient

June 29th, 2010 37 Comments Kate Zawidzki

The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart on behalf of Joseph Casias, the 30-year-old former Associate of the Year who was wrongfully fired by a Battle Creek, Michigan Wal-Mart for his legal use of medical marijuana.

Casias, who is married with two children, suffers from sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor, for which he is a registered medical marijuana patient under state law. But in March, Wal-Mart, in violation of Michigan’s medical marijuana law, fired him anyway after he tested positive for marijuana on a routine drug screen—even for a time denying Casias unemployment benefits. Soon after, MPP called for a national boycott of the corporation.

Today’s announcement by the ACLU brings new hope for justice for Casias, who remains unemployed since his firing. Even more importantly, it represents an opportunity to protect the rights of medical marijuana patients in states across the country who continue to face discrimination for taking the medicine that works best for them. From the ACLU:

Joseph is exactly the kind of patient Michigan voters had in mind when they passed the [Michigan Medical Marihuana Act]. Today, we’re asking the court to not allow Wal-Mart to punish Joseph for merely taking refuge from his pain, and using marijuana as allowed by state law. Corporations should never be allowed to force patients to choose between their health care and their job.

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Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Initiatives Receive Big Endorsements in California, Washington State

June 28th, 2010 11 Comments Kate Zawidzki

In another example of marijuana policy reform’s growing approval by the mainstream political establishment, this week two major state-level political organizations gave their backing to local initiatives to end marijuana prohibition.

Citing inherent racism in the government’s war on marijuana, the California state chapter of the NAACP announced its support for the Tax Cannabis initiative, which will appear on the California ballot this November.

Meanwhile, the Washington state Democratic Party voted by an overwhelming 314-185 margin to endorse a proposed legalization initiative by Sensible Washington, which has not yet qualified for the ballot.

As more and more influential political forces oppose the doomed philosophy of prohibition and embrace the sensible path of reform, the potential for major electoral victories in 2010 and 2012 seems more promising than ever before.

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Medical Marijuana

Rhode Island Protects Doctor Confidentiality, Considers Applicants for Compassion Centers

June 28th, 2010 6 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Last week the Rhode Island state legislature approved a critical piece of legislation designed to protect the confidentiality of physicians who recommend medical marijuana to patients. The bill was introduced after the names of 335 physicians had been leaked to the Providence Journal by a department of health staffer, and several doctors whose identities were disclosed testified that they were no longer comfortable recommending medical marijuana to patients, even when it might be the best course of treatment.

Passage of the bill – which is set to become law – marks the fourth time that Rhode Island has passed positive medical marijuana legislation. In fact, tomorrow, the state will take another critical step in expanding its medical marijuana law further when it holds a public hearing for applicants to open the state’s first nonprofit compassion centers, which will provide qualified patients with safe access to their medicine. Rhode Island has approved opening up to three such centers, and the first licenses are expected to be issued in about a month.

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The MPP Insider, Episode #010

June 25th, 2010 9 Comments Kate Zawidzki

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Prohibition, Research

NASCAR Continues Campaign Against Marijuana, Suspends “Spotter”

June 23rd, 2010 44 Comments Morgan Fox

Once again, the top brass at NASCAR have taken a stand against marijuana users. Yesterday, officials for the racing organization suspended crewmember and former driver Randy LaJoie indefinitely after he tested positive for marijuana. The test was not to make sure that he could be a driver, but that he could be a spotter. For those of you not familiar with racing, the spotter sits in the stands and relays car positions to his or her driver through a headset. Please forgive my ignorance of the details of racing, but it seems as if this is basically a professional spectator, with the enviable bonus of getting to yell at the driver.

Seriously, a drug test is required for this job.

LaJolie now joins the massive ranks of athletes and celebrities forced to apologize for using a substance safer than alcohol.

“I screwed up,” LaJolie said in an interview the day he was suspended.

NASCAR’s behavior is not that surprising. Back in March, officials waited until the last minute to deny Cannabis Planet TV the opportunity to sponsor, and place advertisements on, one of the cars. The car was allowed to race, but with different sponsors.

It seems like the world of racing is lining up against marijuana. In a recent press release, the Office of National Drug Control Policy announced the start of a new campaign with Indy 500 racer Sarah Fisher to combat drugged driving.

This is all well and good. MPP does not advocate driving under the influence of any substance, including marijuana. It just seems strange that ONDCP and the racing community would spend valuable resources targeting marijuana in light of a recent study that shows marijuana use has very little impact on driving ability.

To date, NASCAR is still on very good terms with its alcohol sponsors.

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Medical Marijuana

Oregon Likely to Have Dispensaries on Ballot, Reclassifies Marijuana as Schedule II Drug

June 23rd, 2010 7 Comments Morgan Fox

Last week was a busy one for medical marijuana reform efforts in Oregon.

First, the signature drive to put an initiative on the November ballot that would add medical marijuana dispensaries to the state’s existing law is coming to a close. With more than 74,000 signatures already verified, it is highly likely that this initiative will appear before the voters this year.

In other news, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that medical marijuana patients applying for a concealed-carry handgun license could not be denied based on their status as a “drug user.” While legal to use with a doctor’s recommendation in Oregon, marijuana is still considered an illegal drug under federal law. According to the federal Gun Control Act, marijuana use can be justification to prevent a person from carrying a concealed firearm. According to the Court of Appeals, however, state and local law enforcement personnel are required to follow state law, which does not explicitly prevent medical marijuana patients from obtaining the license.

Finally, with another groundbreaking move by a public entity, the Oregon Board of Pharmacy has voted to reschedule marijuana as a Schedule II drug. While this will have little effect on medical marijuana in the state, it carries a symbolic importance in the greater national campaign to remove marijuana from the overly restrictive Schedule I. In February, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy recommended the same change, but Oregon appears to be the first state to actually enact it. Marijuana still remains a Schedule I drug on the federal level.

With all these moves to legitimize marijuana going on, it seems like things are looking up for Oregon patients. Make sure to keep your eye on Oregon in coming months to see if the dispensary initiative qualifies and if voters approve it in November.

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Medical Marijuana

MPP, Allies Make Final Push for New York Medical Marijuana Law

June 22nd, 2010 23 Comments Kate Zawidzki

As New York’s legislative session draws to a close this week, MPP, New York Patients First, and hundreds of New Yorkers are pushing hard to ensure that medical marijuana is included in this year’s state budget. In March, the Senate passed a resolution calling for medical marijuana to be included in the budget, but New York Gov. David Paterson — who has previously voiced his support for a medical marijuana law — has never come out and said he supports its inclusion. Paterson is demanding the budget pass this week, so he is essentially all that stands in the way of New York becoming the 15th medical marijuana state.

If you live or vote in New York and support protecting seriously ill patients from arrest, please call the governor TODAY and tell him to not stand in the way of patient relief. Click here to find out how.

Since New York’s medical marijuana bill was first introduced in 1997, 13 states have had laws enacted — including neighboring Vermont and New Jersey. The budget is a natural place for the bill because it would raise tens of millions of dollars for the cash-strapped state through modest excise taxes and licensing fees.

Stay tuned for updates.

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Medical Marijuana

Britain Approves Liquid Marijuana as Prescription Medicine

June 18th, 2010 20 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Major news: It was announced today that Sativex, a cannabinoid-based liquid medicine sprayed under the tongue, has been approved for use in Great Britain to help treat the muscle spasticity suffered by multiple sclerosis patients. Sativex is a natural marijuana extract that is produced by British-based GW Pharmaceuticals. It has been approved for use in Canada to treat neuropathic pain since 2005.

“Once again, the scientific community has confirmed that marijuana is medicine and it can provide safe and effective relief to patients suffering from certain conditions,” said Rob Kampia, MPP’s executive director, in an statement issued today. “Sadly, our federal government, through the Drug Enforcement Administration, has blocked effective research into the therapeutic effectiveness of marijuana. The United States could be leading the world in the development of cannabinoid-based medicines, but instead our government has ceded this industry to the U.K., while intentionally prolonging the agony of patients in this country.”

The Food and Drug Administration has already approved the pill Marinol, which contains marijuana’s main psychoactive component, THC, for medical use in the United States, but unlike Sativex, Marinol does not contain all of marijuana’s more than 60 different cannabinoids, and therefore doesn’t offer the full therapeutic potential of marijuana. Among patients, Marinol is notoriously ineffective.

“The good news is that this announcement buttresses our argument that marijuana is an effective medicine. To have liquid marijuana legal for medical use but marijuana illegal would be like having coffee legal but coffee beans illegal,” Kampia added.

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You’re Not Bad, LenDale; Our Marijuana Laws Are

June 18th, 2010 19 Comments Kate Zawidzki

Earlier this week, the Tennessean newspaper published an interview with former Tennessee Titans running back LenDale White in which White acknowledged that he was likely going to be suspended from the National Football League for four games because of marijuana use. White accepted his “wrongdoing” with the following mea culpa:

“I did it, so it is my fault. I smoked marijuana; that is all I have ever done. That’s all I do, that’s it. I smoke. I don’t care about any other drugs, but it’s marijuana. … But I have changed. I am a good man. Unfortunately the stuff that I did in my recent past caught up to me in the present and it’s affecting my future.”

We have written on this blog before about the travesty of having athletes and celebrities pilloried in the media for marijuana possession. And I have personally decried NFL policies that punish players for marijuana use and end up steering them toward alcohol instead. But the quote above really hits me hard for some reason.

We have seen other athletes, like Michael Phelps and Tim Lincecum, apologize for making the “mistake” of using marijuana. That is almost to be expected. I mean, the bottom line is that they did violate the law in some minor way. So as much as I might feel like they have nothing to apologize for, I can see why they are dong it.

What White is saying is different. He said that he has “changed” and is now a “good man.” The obviously implication is that when he was using marijuana, he was “bad.” Well, he wasn’t — at least not for using marijuana on its own. If he didn’t do anything to harm anyone else after consuming marijuana, then he was just choosing to relax with a substance less harmful than alcohol.

Unless White believes that having a beer makes him a bad person, there is no reason he should feel that way about using marijuana. In fact, given the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, the act of using marijuana instead of alcohol is far from bad; it is actually sensible.

So keep your chin up, LenDale! Societal attitudes are shifting, slowly but surely.

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