The National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws says the consequences of marijuana enforcement have damaging and sometimes fatal consequences.
Last week, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) delivered a powerful message about how communities of color are disproportionately affected by the enforcement of the War on Drugs. In response to “recent violent deaths of Africans Americans,” NIDA director Nora D. Volkow highlighted that systemic discrimination directly thwarts the federal institution’s effort to address addiction as a disease rather than a moral failing.
“[Our] mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability,” Volkow wrote. “Science has told us repeatedly that systematic, widespread discrimination of Black/African-American people is diametrically opposed to these aims, and what’s more, it is unacceptable and wrong.”
The National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws (NORML) applauded the statement, adding cannabis advocates know the truth of her statements all too well. But the group called upon NIDA and Volkow to take a step further and label marijuana prohibition as more detrimental than the plant itself.
“We believe that taking this public position would be consistent with NIDA’s mission to promote and enhance public health. NORML recognizes that, from a public health perspective, cannabis is not altogether harmless,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri and Deputy Director Paul Armentano wrote in a joint open letter. “It can be mood-altering; some consumers can become dependent upon it, and some can experience adverse effects.
“But we believe, and based upon your recent public statements we have faith that you do too, that marijuana’s potential public health risks to the individual adult consumer pale in comparison to the known public health burden imposed by its continued criminalization.”
NIDA’s Volkow noted white and black Americans use drugs at similar rates, but the latter group is four times as likely to be arrested for possession. But violating marijuana laws can often lead to damaging long-term effects. As NORML pointed out, consequences can include loss of employment, student aid, adoption rights, welfare benefits. It can also lead to probation, mandatory drug testing, lifelong criminal record, and more.
As the Washington Post has reported, cannabis can be deadly in ways not often discussed in scientific and political circles. Low-level marijuana arrests can lead to fatal encounters with the police, as it did in the cases of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, Ramarley Graham in the Bronx, and Philando Castile in Minnesota. By condemning marijuana prohibition, NIDA would hold considerable sway in addressing criminal justice reform in the country.
“Will marijuana legalization and regulation alone fix over a century of systemic racism in America? No,” the NORML directors wrote in their letter. “But nonetheless we understand, all too well, the role that marijuana criminalization has played — and continues to play — in upholding the systemic racism that NIDA has now gone on record to condemn.
“That is why, in the interest of both enhancing public health and confronting the institutional racism that plagues our nation, we ask you and NIDA to publicly acknowledge that the perpetuation of the criminal enforcement of marijuana prohibition, as well as the stigmatization of those adults who use it responsibly, is far more detrimental to public health than is the behavior these policies are intended to discourage.”