A Call for Unified Messaging and Correct History

2019 D.C. Cannabis Policy Summit

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By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer

Hundreds gathered this weekend to learn about what was happening with cannabis on a local, regional and national front. As “Mary Jane” enthusiasts geared up for the weed holiday, 4/20, advocates pushed for clearer messaging when it comes to the marijuana national agenda and how the history of cannabis is retold.

The 2nd annual National Cannabis Policy Summit was an all day event held Friday April 19 at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., with a plethora of workshop topics discussing everything from “Fake News” in the retelling of the War on Drugs, to how Cannabis could protect the environment. But, a consistent theme during the day long event was how we looked at the past and how we moved forward.

The 2nd Annual National Cannabis Policy Summit was held Friday April 19 at the Newseum. (Photo by George Kevin Jordan)

“Let’s appreciate the magnitude of the transformation that is happening,” said Ethan Nadelmann, founder & former executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance during opening remarks. “Understand the history of this thing. Understand that we came out of a period barely 25-30 years ago, where barely a quarter of Americans were in favor of legalizing marijuana. And marijuana wasn’t legal anywhere for anything.”

It is true that marijuana support has surged fast. According to data from the 2018 Pew Research Center survey, about 62 percent of America was in favor of legalizing marijuana.  The support goes up depending on which generation you are from, according to the data.  Only 39 percent of the silent generation was in favor of legalizing it. However, the number grew to 54p percent for baby boomers, and 63 percent for Generation X. By the time you get to millennials, support balloons to 74 percent.

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Right now the District of Columbia and ten states make recreational marijuana legal. Those states include: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Vermont, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington State.

“This is probably the first time in American history that a movement driven almost entirely by concerns for personal freedom, social justice, racial justice, human rights and good public policy has resulted in the emergence of a legal industry that is already worth tens of billions of dollars a year around the world,” Nadelmann said. “It’s never happened before.”

Nadelmann has a plan to move the needle forward. “We’ve got to be real about this.  On one hand this is an extraordinary dynamic market,” Nadelmann said, speaking of the recognition that medical cannabis has received in the industry as well the bonds of social justice that are aligned with the fight to help bring up people who were imprisoned by the marijuana system.

But as progress rolled forward for many entrepreneurs, the impact of marijuana for marginalized communities was damaging.

In a 2013, an American Civil Liberties Union report entitled, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” showed that between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million marijuana arrests in the United States, 88 percent of which were for possession. Also in that time frame, marijuana accounted for over half (52 percent) of all drug arrests in the United State and marijuana possession made up nearly half (46 percent) of all drug arrests. In 2010, there was one marijuana arrest every 37 seconds and states spent, combined, over $3.6 billion enforcing marijuana possession law.

The report also revealed that Black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than Whites.

Nadelmann was clear on the industry reckoning with the ramifications of marijuana on communities.

“What that means in theory and in moral principle is that the people who are benefiting from this now, and stand to make money, should at least be aware of this history and feel some moral obligation to understand that this is not some new technological thing to make profit over,” Nadelmann said to the hundreds in the audience.

“We got where we are because of the momentum of activists, families, and patients, and philanthropists and people who care about doing this for the right reasons.”

Jamie Raskin (D-MD) delivered the keynote address and the audience was treated to video presentations by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Barbara Lee. (D-CA).

The event was part of a weekend of events, including the festival and concert on April 20.