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Cannabis sativa (marijuana)
Much has been said recently about David Brooks's recent New York Times confession "Weed: Been There. Done That." The article is about having smoked marijuana as a youth. He joins a long list of "I used to" or "I didn't inhale" from people of prominence who have good jobs and important positions.

My favorite response to Brooks was from Tressie McMillan Cottom at Slate in her piece "David Brooks' Polluted 'Moral Ecology': A privileged white man professes remorse for smoking pot. But it’s not privileged whites who would pay for his sins."

What struck me the most deeply was her sharing her experience with how marijuana criminal records affect black men.

In 2004 I was working in a career cosmetology school. Most of the students were women. On occasion a man would set up an admissions appointment. Almost all of those men were black and were trying to rebuild their lives after serving time. They would come to the cosmetology school because it was one of the few that offered full financial aid—grants and loans—to pay the tuition. They did not want to do women’s hair, but in North Carolina, a cosmetology license also credentialed hair cutting, i.e., barbering. In the black community, barbering has a long history of incubating black business ownership. Like black salons for women, barbershops have afforded black men a chance to earn legal income when racism and criminal convictions shut them out of the labor market.
Please read below the fold for more on the ramifications of marijuana policy.

She went on to report:

I never enrolled a single black man at Empire Beauty School. None of them could get past the box on the federal financial aid form asking if they had been convicted of a drug offense.

I turned all of those men away.

David Brooks clearly has no criminal record, though if he did, doubtful it would stop him from writing for the Times. Even were he still indulging, he'd never be a target of Stop and Frisk or Shop and Frisk.  

I've written here in the past about the War on Drugs, and drug policy and harm reduction.

Though most of my research with drugs has been with heroin injection, from my earliest days as a political activist I've protested government drug policies and enforcement in our communities as being part of a repressive racist design, and agree with Michelle Alexander's positions on criminal injustice in The New Jim Crow.  

I haven't written here specifically about weed, pot, ganja, reefer ... whatever name you call it by, simply because I've been more focused on other drug and criminal justice issues. After reading Cottom's piece, and now that my New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo is "evolving" in his position on medical marijuana, along with the changing opinion polls around legalization, most recently from CNN, Pew and Gallup, figured I'd add my two cents to all the smoke being blown.

In the interest of transparency—I'll state—yes, I've smoked weed. Started in high school, and continued to toke, sometimes frequently, other times not so much, for over 20 years. Yes, I've bought weed. And yes, there were times I "redistributed" some larger amounts—probably lid-sized to friends. No, I wasn't addicted to it. Yes, I had a real problem with alcohol and no longer drink. No, weed didn't impair my brain function, unless a 4.0 GPA in grad school is indicative of cognitive disorder.

Where I differ from Brooks is I'm not white, not elite, and at any point in time had I been busted for possession, use, sale, or "intent to sell" my black ass would have done jail or prison time. I don't agree with his moral compass and conclusion that "Colorado and Washington ... have gone into the business of effectively encouraging drug use."

Legalizing what is already going on in the suburbs, on campuses, in the projects, and in corporate board rooms isn't encouraging anything. His remarks reek of early government propaganda from the 1930s, and bring back the days of Reefer Madness.

An advertisement distributed by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1935
Anti-marijuana ad distributed by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1935
Brooks talks of "the sort of person most of us want to be." Well, he isn't speaking for me.

The sort of person I want to be, and am, is a person who can't stand by and watch a mom like Patricia Spottedcrow get sent to prison for 12 years for selling $31 dollars worth of weed.

Patricia Spottedcrow of Oklahoma made headlines in 2010 when she was sentenced to 12 years in prison for her first criminal offense: the sale of a $31 bag of marijuana to an undercover informant. The senseless severity of her sentence caught the attention of advocates who quickly moved to support Spottedcrow, spawning a grassroots uprising that led to a highly unusual decrease in her sentence and, ultimately, to her early release on parole.

Last month, her story went public again when she was reunited with her four children and her mother, who cared for them during her two-year absence.

While Spottedcrow’s tale of early release is unusual, her excessive sentence is not. She is one of tens of thousands of people sentenced harshly for nonviolent drug offenses in our criminal justice system, which embraces extreme sentencing policies for minor crimes like no other country. Mandatory minimums, life sentences without parole, unforgiving three-strikes laws for nonviolent offenses, and drug policies that emphasize punishment over rehabilitation make the U.S. a shameful outlier when it comes to criminal justice. And all of these infamous laws and policies disproportionately affect people of color, like Spottedcrow (who is part Native American and part African American).

The ACLU report "The War on Marijuana in Black and White", released last year, should be a must-read for everyone.

Lives Derailed:

All wars are expensive, and the War on Marijuana has been no different. Not only have states blown billions that could have been otherwise invested, but the personal cost to those arrested is often significant and can linger for years. When people are arrested for possessing even tiny amounts of marijuana, it can have dire collateral consequences that affect their eligibility for public housing and student financial aid, employment opportunities, child custody determinations, and immigration status.

Marijuana Arrests by the Numbers
According to the ACLU’s original analysis, marijuana arrests now account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States. Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana. Nationwide, the arrest data revealed one consistent trend: significant racial bias. Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.
This video shows a graphic representation of the data.

We waste lives and waste billions of dollars that could provide education, housing, jobs and job training. Perhaps this war of weed will also be a wake up call for those who aren't always able to bridge racial and economic gaps and disparities in their own life experiences.

Ever smoked weed?

Still smoking weed?

The most important question is, did you do time for it and do you have a criminal record, preventing you from having a job as a result?

As an AIDS activist, I support the baby steps of legalizing medical marijuana, but let's get real. Most people aren't smoking pot cause they are HIV positive, or have glaucoma. You don't go to prison for your glass of after dinner wine. Your local liquor vendor isn't imprisoned as a dope pusher.

Legalize it. To grow, to smoke, and to sell. Period.

You can take action by supporting efforts to legalize marijuana, and reverse and eliminate convictions.

Be aware of political initiatives in your state. Add your voice to petitions and actions at websites like Marijuana Majority.

I'll stop here after looking south of our borders. I applaud the government of Uruguay for taking a major step into sanity.

Uruguay becomes first country to legalize marijuana trade

The use of marijuana is legal in Uruguay, a country of 3.3 million that is one of the most liberal in Latin America, but cultivation and sale of the drug are not.
Other countries have decriminalized marijuana possession and the Netherlands allows its sale in coffee shops, but Uruguay will be the first nation to legalize the whole chain from growing the plant to buying and selling its leaves.

Several countries such as Canada, the Netherlands and Israel have legal programs for growing medical cannabis but do not allow cultivation of marijuana for recreational use.
Last year, the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington passed ballot initiatives that legalize and regulate the recreational use of marijuana.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Jan 12, 2014 at 06:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Black Kos community, LatinoKos, Barriers and Bridges, and DKos Cannabis Law and Drug War Reform.

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