COALITION OF PARENTS, LAW ENFORCEMENT, RELIGIOUS LEADERS, AND EMPLOYERS TESTIFY AGAINST MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION AT LEGISLATIVE BLACK CAUCUS HEARING
At a hearing of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus, coalition members of New Jersey Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy (NJ-RAMP) expressed their opposition to the legalization and commercialization of recreational marijuana in New Jersey.
Parents, law enforcement professionals, religious leaders, employers, and addiction professionals offered testimony, insights and expertise on a multitude of issues including health concerns, increase in youth use, drugged driving, and arrest rates among minorities.
“Mass incapacitation of blacks instead of mass incarceration.” Judge Arthur Burnett, National Executive Director of National African American Drug Policy Coalition, was describing how he views marijuana legalization, at a meeting this summer which pre-dated the formation of Two is Enough D.C.
Two Is Enough D.C. (TIED.C.) officially registered September 23 as the No on 71 campaign — signaling the opposition to legalizing marijuana in Washington, DC. TIED.C. announced its formation on Wednesday, September 17, with former Congressman Patrick Kennedy giving an introductory speech. The group urges the voters of Washington, DC, not to approve Initiative 71 on November 4, 2014.
The grass-roots campaign is another example of David vs. Goliath. Initiative 71 has received more than $200,000. David Bronner, a Californian, jump-started the campaign to legalize marijuana in the District of Columbia. After the campaign gathered more 57,000 signatures, DC Board of Elections approved the Initiative in August. Though Initiative 71 concerns private possession and usage, the city council would be able to commercialize marijuana. City council currently is considering a bill to tax and regulate marijuana. However, in the states that have legalized it, the black market remains and taxes have been far below expectations.
“We have seen the negative impact of tobacco and alcohol on our youth, families and communities,” Will Jones III, founder of Tiedc, said. Companies that produce these two legal drugs have disproportionately targeted and affected communities of color. “With the costs in health care, education, accidents, lost productivity and law enforcement as a result of substance use, Washington, DC cannot afford a third legal drug. Thus, we declare that ‘Two is enough’ and urge our fellow citizens to do the same by voting NO on Initiative 71.”
Judge Burnett spoke at the Press Conference, along with Will Jones, representing the millennial generation. They were joined by other community representatives who gave forceful speeches: Dorothy Armstead, retired schoolteacher; Dr. William B. Lawson, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Howard University; Pastor Ronald L. Demery of Bible Way Church in Washington, DC., a local civil rights leader; Kathy Henderson, Realtor, parent, and elected representative for ANC 5D05; Ambrose Lane, Founder of Ward 7 Health Alliance Network and President and CEO of Washington East Development Alliance (WEDA) and founder of ; and Andre Murphy, who is in the process of making a film, with Bernard Howard, who spoke of his struggle to overcome addiction.
The speakers agreed that legalizing marijuana will mean more youth access to it, more drug addiction and the problems that go with it. Increased use at younger ages also means more school dropouts and fewer children who are able to complete schooling and get jobs. Under the initiative, the city council could allow commercialization which would then open the door to dangerous edibles, known to trick children and others with appealing packages.
Health and Biology
“Even if you don’t smoke marijuana now, you will be smoking it.” Kathy Henderson said at a community planning meeting opposed to legalization.
“Since decriminalization, marijuana smoke is everywhere. People smoke on their porches and you can’t get away from it.” Currently the maximum fine for smoking marijuana is $25 and police do not bother to ticket. This de-facto legalization of marijuana in the nation’s capital means that it carries a fine less than the $75 charged for littering and less than the $50 for under-age tobacco smoking.
Ms. Henderson, who received her undergraduate training in Biology, understands the dangers of marijuana from a health and public safety perspective, as well as from the perspective of a parent. Other speakers have seen it all.
Dr. Lawson, in addition to his position at Howard University, is President of the DC Chapter of Mental Health America, past President of the Washington Psychiatric Society, past President of the Black Psychiatrists of America. He received the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill’s Exemplary Psychiatrist Award and the Multicultural Workplace Award from the Veterans Administration for the advancement of diversity and multicultural understanding. Twice Dr. Lawson was named one of America’s Leading Black Doctors by Black Enterprise Magazine. He is an author of over 170 publications.
Speakers’ Vast Public Policy Expertise
Other speakers at the Press Conference are experts in public policy and community organizing. Representative Patrick Kennedy, son of former Senator Ted Kennedy and nephew of President Kennedy, served 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is known as the author and lead sponsor of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. The dramatic legislation provides millions of Americans who were previously denied care with access to mental health treatment. He is a co-founder of Project SAM, which supports an alternative policy for marijuana, neither legalization or incarceration. As a mental health advocate, Kennedy stands strongly against marijuana legalization. He says it increases “permissiveness for a drug that directly contributes to mental illness.”
Judge Burnett, in addition to being National Executive Director of the National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc., was senior judge for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. He was appointed the first African-American United States Magistrate in the United States, was a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, was a Chair of the National Bar Association Juvenile Justice Task Force and a Chair of its Juvenile Justice Committee. Judge Burnett has about 40 years of experience as a judge and recalls some of the worst cases of domestic violence and child abuse that arose from drug use and alcohol.
Ambrose Lane is also a policy specialist, and a community organizer. Among his many community leadership positions, he has been Director of DC Circle of Hope Violence Prevention City-Wide Project and the Founder, Principal organizer of DC Youth Advisory Council (DCYAC).
Pastor Demery organized a “no ticket” Gospel concert in June of this year, with hopes to increase public awareness of the dangers of policies that increase marijuana access and the resulting risk of “naive” initiation into life-long drug use and addiction. Last September he hosted a Conference: No Access, No Use.
The disparities in the criminal justice and larger issues of racism in the United States were brought up by some of the speakers. “However, drug arrests are only one factor in the larger issues of racism and disparities in the criminal justice system. It is wrong to think that legalizing marijuana would make a dent in these larger problems,” Will Jones concluded. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a downward trend in the rate of incarceration in federal prisons, following the release of non-violent drug offenders.
Though some voters may think Initiative 71 only covers private possession, with an individuals allowed two ounces or to grow up to six plants. The city council at any time could vote to allow commercial sales of marijuana.
A recent problem is BHO explosions. It would be difficult to stop and control the making of BHO, butane hash oil. The fire departments, hospital emergency rooms and ambulances of Colorado, California and Washington have become overburdened with a rash of butane hash oil explosions, and this activity would be totally legitimate if Initiative 71 passes. Despite eight explosions in Denver and 31 in Colorado this year, the city of Denver has had difficulty passing laws to change the situation.