We’ve known for years that marijuana laws disproportionately harm people of color, but the results of a recent New York Times investigation are still shocking. According to the report:
- Black New York City residents are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites; Hispanic residents are five times more likely.
- During the first three months of this year, 89% of the 4,000 marijuana arrests in New York City were Black or Hispanic.
It doesn’t make sense to arrest an adult for possessing or consuming marijuana, but the racial disparities in these arrest rates make the injustice of marijuana prohibition even more intolerable.
The situation in New York City is so morally indefensible that the Manhattan district attorney announced his office will no longer prosecute low-level marijuana cases, and Mayor Bill de Blasio is directing police to stop arresting people for public consumption of marijuana.
Those are positive steps, but the solution is to repeal the destructive policy of marijuana prohibition.
Today, The New York Times published an editorial calling for a halt to all marijuana prosecutions in New York City, following the release of a study showing that racial disparities in arrests persist, despite the recent city efforts to alleviate the problem.
New York City was scaling back its stop-and-frisk program even before a federal judge ruled in 2013 that the tactics underlying it violated the constitutional rights of minority citizens. It’s hard not to look at marijuana arrests today without thinking of that saga. Although the city has reduced the number of arrests for low-level marijuana possession, black and Latino New Yorkers are far more likely to be arrested for smoking in public than whites, who are just as likely to use marijuana.
These arrests have virtually no public safety benefit and can cause lasting damage to people who often have had no other contact with the criminal justice system. Charges are typically dismissed if people stay out of trouble for a year, but in that period, they can be denied jobs, housing and entry into the armed services.
The city needs to do more to minimize arrests. District attorneys can take the lead by refusing to prosecute most, if not all, of these cases.
You can read the full editorial here.
Continuing its support for sensible marijuana policies, The New York Times published an editorial Thursday asking Congress and the president to support a bill, introduced this week by Sen. Bernie Sanders, that would allow states to determine their own marijuana laws.
Support for making marijuana legal is increasing around the world, and that is a good thing. Earlier this week, the Mexican Supreme Court opened the door to legalizing the drug by giving four plaintiffs the right to grow cannabis for personal use.
In Canada, the newly sworn in prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has said he intends to change the law so people can use the drug recreationally; medicinal use is already legal in that country. And in the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, recently introduced a bill that would let states decide if they want to make the drug legal without worrying about violating federal law.
Laws banning the growing, distribution and possession of marijuana have caused tremendous damage to society, with billions spent on imprisoning people for violating pointlessly harsh laws. Yet research shows that marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, and can be used to treat medical conditions like chronic pain.
What’s needed now is responsible leadership from President Obama and Congress. They ought to seriously consider the kind of legislation Mr. Sanders has proposed.
Our neighbor to the South is one step closer to making marijuana legal after a recent court ruling!
The New York Times reports:
The Mexican Supreme Court opened the door to legalizing marijuana on Wednesday, delivering a pointed challenge to the nation’s strict substance abuse laws and adding its weight to the growing debate in Latin America over the costs and consequences of the war against drugs.
The vote by the court’s criminal chamber declared that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for their personal use. While the ruling does not strike down current drug laws, it lays the groundwork for a wave of legal actions that could ultimately rewrite them, proponents of legalization say.
The decision reflects a changing dynamic in Mexico, where for decades the American-backed war on drugs has produced much upheaval but few lasting victories. Today, the flow of drugs to the United States continues, along with the political corruption it fuels in Mexico. The country, dispirited by the ceaseless fight with traffickers, remains engulfed in violence.
The marijuana case has ignited a debate about the effectiveness of imprisoning drug users, in a country with some of the most conservative drug laws in Latin America. But across the region, a growing number of voices are questioning Washington’s strategy in the drug war. With little to show for tough-on-crime policies, the balance appears to be slowly shifting toward other approaches.
Obama’s Nominee to Lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Supports the Decriminalization of Marijuana
According to the Washington Post, President Obama plans to nominate top lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union, Vanita Gupta, to head to the civil rights division of the Department of Justice.
Gupta is a longtime civil rights lawyer and deputy legal director of the ACLU, as well as the director of the Union’s Center for Justice.
She stated in a New York Times op-ed about ending mass incarceration:
“Those who seek a fairer criminal justice system, unclouded by racial bias, must at a minimum demand that the government eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, which tie judges’ hands; rescind three-strikes laws, which often make no distinction between, say, armed assault and auto theft; amend “truth in sentencing” statutes, which prohibit early release for good behavior; and recalibrate drug policies, starting with decriminalization of marijuana possession and investment in substance-abuse prevention and treatment.”
According to administration officials, Gupta will be appointed acting head of the civil rights division Wednesday by Attorney General Eric Holder.
According to a New York Times editorial, this November, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia will decide whether to make recreational marijuana legal and regulated — effectively disregarding the misguided federal ban on a substance that is far less dangerous than alcohol.
Alaska’s Ballot Measure 2 would make the use and purchase of marijuana legal for those 21 and older, create a marijuana control board and tax the drug at $50 per ounce wholesale. It is already legal for Alaskans to possess small amounts of marijuana in their homes, and surveys indicate that 18 percent of Alaskans smoke marijuana. Ballot Measure 2 would mean that Alaskans could buy it from a store instead of resorting to the black market.
This is not the first time the newspaper of record has supported sensible marijuana policy reform, and it is indicative of increasing national support for ending marijuana prohibition.
As reported by The Washington Post, the Marijuana Policy Project, in partnership with marijuana industry leader Medbox, Inc., is now launching a $75,000 public education campaign to counter what communications director, Mason Tvert, describes as decades of “exaggeration, fear mongering, and condescension.” The campaign will launch at noon in Denver, Colorado in front of a billboard aimed at tourists.
The outdoor ad reads, “Don’t let a candy bar ruin your vacation. With edibles, start low and go slow.”
The ad is an allusion to the case of Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist who got sick from eating a marijuana edible on a visit to Denver to cover the topic of marijuana.
Ensuring the safe use of edible marijuana products has proven troublesome in Colorado since legal sales began in January. Many people have more experience smoking marijuana than consuming it in edible form, and because the effects have a slower onset with edibles, it is harder for inexperienced users to self-regulate. The headlines ridiculing legal pot advocates, as well as Dowd’s experience, have been enough for the industry to promote moderation with edible pot forms.
“So far, every campaign designed to educate the public about marijuana has relied on fear mongering and insulting marijuana users. Like most Americans, Ms. Dowd has probably seen countless silly anti-marijuana ads on TV, but she has never seen one that highlights the need to ‘start low and go slow’ when choosing to consume marijuana edibles,” Tvert stated.
The campaign will begin in Colorado, featuring print ads, online ads, and literature to be distributed at retail locations urging responsible consumption and directing people to ConsumeResponsibly.org, which is patterned after the alcohol industry’s “Drink Responsibly” campaign. It will present information about products, laws, and the effects of marijuana. The campaign will eventually expand to Washington, where marijuana is also legally taxed and regulated.
According to The Denver Post, late Friday, the NFLPA unanimously approved the terms of a new drug policy that includes the implementation of testing for Human Growth Hormone — a performance enhancing drug — as well as an increase in the threshold for testing positive for marijuana.
The agreement with the NFL and NFLPA opens up the possibility for players suspended on drug policy violations to return to the field. Cleveland.com reported that Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns receiver, will have his suspension reduced from a season-long ban to 10 games once the new drug policy is finalized and formally approved.
“This is a historic moment for our players and our league,” NFLPA president Eric Winston said in a statement. “We have collectively bargained drug policies that will keep the game clean and safe, but also provide players with an unprecedented level of fairness and transparency. Players should be proud of their union for standing up for what was best for the game.”
Although the threshold for a positive test for marijuana will increase to 35 ng/ml from the previous 15 ng/ml, the new marijuana threshold is a standard much lower than those used in most other sports. The threshold for a positive test for marijuana should have increased to the 150 ng/ml limit — used by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which conducts Olympic athlete testing — that was originally suggested.
Moreover, the new terms of the drug policy still prove draconian given the chronic pain endured by most NFL players and the fact that, by most measures, the use of medical marijuana to relieve pain is far less harmful than the prescription painkillers that players currently rely on.
As former player Nate Jackson recently stated in a New York Times op-ed, “Virtually every single player in the NFL has a certifiable need for medical marijuana.”
In this case, the fact that players are still not permitted to use medical marijuana is inexplicable — even when 15 teams are based in states where medical marijuana can be recommended legally and most, if not all, players have a very legitimate need for it.
It appears as though the NFL is finally progressing towards changing its controversial drug policy. According to a NBC Sports story, the NFLPA plans to vote tonight on proposed changes to the NFL’s existing drug policy. The changes, if ratified, may include an increased threshold for which players are allowed to test positive for marijuana. However, the NFLPA first needs to get a proposal from the league itself. According to the NBC Sports posting, that has not happened yet.
“The players are prepared to vote on a proposal from NFL tonight but they will need something to review well in advance of that vote,” NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told PFT by phone. “As of right now, there’s nothing yet. Players have been informed of the status of the league’s proposal on an ongoing basis. [On Monday], [NFLPA president] Eric Winston and [NFLPA executive committee member] Brian Waters reiterated the importance of a fair due process for hGH testing, a line in the sand with respect to player discipline before a fair due process on DUIs, and also other issues that were important to them.”
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="266"] Josh Gordon[/caption]
The “other issues” include the manner in which players are processed through the substance abuse policy, amid much criticism and media attention regarding the use of marijuana and the Cleveland Browns wide receiver, Josh Gordon’s, suspension.
According to Nate Jackson, a New York Times op-ed contributor and former tight end that medicated with marijuana for most of his career, “Gordon has marijuana in his system. He broke the rules. I understand that. But this is a rule that absurdly equates marijuana with opiates, opioids, and PCP. The NFL’s threshold for disciplinary action for marijuana is 10 times higher than the one used by the International Olympic Committee.”
The NFL rethinking their approach to marijuana is long overdue. Their current policy reflects outdated stances onmarijuana and pain management, penalizes players who seek an alternative to painkillers, keeps them in a perpetual state of injury and injury management, and risks creating new addicts.
In the end, as stated by MPP’s Morgan Fox, “The NFL’s harsh marijuana penalties do nothing to promote the health and safety of the players.” [MPP emphasis added]
According to a New York Times story, even as 23 states (and the District of Columbia) allow the use of medical or recreational marijuana, many businesses continue to strictly enforce their drug-free policies, creating a cultural schism between a society that increasingly accepts marijuana and companies that will fire employees who use it.
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="266"] Brandon Coats[/caption]
Brandon Coats, for example, was fired for violating Dish Network’s drug-free workplace rules, despite having a medical marijuana card. Coats was paralyzed in a car accident when he was 16 and has been using medical marijuana since 2009 to relieve painful spasms that jolt his body. However, he medicated mostly at night and said marijuana had never affected his performance at work. In spite of this, Mr. Coats andother patients are discovering that marijuana’s recent strides toward the legal and cultural mainstream are clashing with office policies and, ultimately, derailing careers.
Employers and business groups say drug screenings identify drug-abusing workers, create a safer working environment, lower their insurance costs, and, in some cases, are required by the law. Marijuana advocates, on the other hand, counter that such policies amount to discrimination, either against those using marijuana to treat a medical condition or against those who use it because they have the legal right to do so, off the clock and outside of the workplace.
There are a lot of people out there who need jobs, can do a good job, but in order for them to live their lives, they have to have this,” said Mr. Coats, who is 35. “A person can drink all night long, be totally hung over the next day and go to work and there’s no problem with it.”
Generally speaking, most companies do not fire employees for drinking a couple of beers or having a glass of wine — which is objectively more harmful than marijuana — after working hours. It simply does not make sense for law-abiding citizens to lose their jobs over a substance that is far safer than alcohol.