Watch Us Grow panel discussion reveals startling facts about marijuana prohibition

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LEGAL NEWS PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by CynthiaPrice
Legal News

In answer to the question posed by moderator Roberta F. King of Canna Communication at the March 7 Marijuana Watch Us Grow panel discussion in Muskegon, “What is the one true thing you wish everyone knew about marijuana?”, attorney Joslin Monahan said, “I wish everyone knew that the war on drugs wasn’t born out of any sincere concern for public welfare or public health, rather it was born out of a culture war, a Nixon-era effort to start to be able to penalize people who opposed him.”

Monahan went on to quote Nixon aide John Ehrlichman in a recently-published article (by Harper’s Magazine) taken from a 22-year-old interview:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people.

“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin [a]nd then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities...  Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Monahan, who recently relocated her solo firm to the offices of Cannalex – the practice started by Wrigley, Hoffman & Hendricks, covered in past issues of the Grand Rapids Legal News — is the current president of the West Michigan Unit of the American Civil Liberties Union Michigan. The Muskegon/Lakeshore affiliate of the ACLU unit sponsored the event, whose title echoes Muskegon’s branding campaign, WATCH mUSkeGOn.

The Cannalex move announcement stated, “While Monahan and the Cannalex attorneys will remain separate law firms, opportunities for collaboration will allow both firms to better serve the cannabis business community in Michigan.”

Joining Monahan on the panel were Tami Vandenberg and Dr. Donald Crandall.

Vandenberg is well known as both the successful owner of The Meanwhile Bar and The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids and the Executive Director of Well House, a project to offer stable shelter to the homeless following the “Housing First” model. Grand Rapids Business Journal has named her one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan four times, and a 40 Under Forty six times, culminating in her winning the 40 Under Forty Distinguished Alumna title in 2017.

Vandenberg is also on the board of MI Legalize, the group that co-managed (with The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol)  the petition drive to put legalization of recreational marijuana on the November 2018 ballot. The petitioners turned in 360,00 signatures , about 50% more than was required, and are now awaiting certification results.

Dr. Crandall was a pinch-hitter, filling in for Dr. Marla S. Gendelman of Liberate Pain Management, who had an emergency arise. Dr. Crandall, a well-respected retired surgeon in the Muskegon area, has been intensively researching medical marijuana.

Vandenberg pointed out that even prior to the 1970s official war on drugs, the process to prohibit marijuana was steeped in racism. Harry Anslinger, the obsessed opponent of cannabis, which had previously been used in a variety of treatments, made openly racist (and unrepeatable) remarks about it in an attempt to vilify the substance, He was the main author of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, which effectively made the transfer or possession of non-medical cannabis illegal.

In fact, even the name marijuana (often spelled marihuana at that time) is part of that history. Anslinger capitalized on Americans’ fear of (legal) Mexican immigrants taking their jobs during the depression by using that term instead of the more common “cannabis.”

“Marijuana has been recognized as a therapeutic agent for centuries. In the 1800s, the American Pharmaceutical Association listed the many things it could be used for,” Dr. Crandall said. “When Anslinger, who blamed the whole ‘beast’ of marijuana on the Mexicans, tried to lump it together with heroin and cocaine in the 1930s, even the American Medical Association (AMA) petitioned not to have it included with the others.”

All three panelists contrasted cannabis with opiates, noting that cannabis is not addictive by most standards. In light of the disastrous epidemic of addiction to opioids, Dr. Crandall noted that a study published in the Journal of the AMA March 6 showed that opiates are no more effective at relieving pain than over the counter drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen.

After Monahan discussed the recent changes stemming from Michigan’s Medical Marihuana Facilities Act, the panel looked at another important aspect of marijuana and what is becoming a big industry.

The entry price into the retail sale of medical marijuana is too steep for many potential business owners to afford, so there are definite justice issues associated with the question of who will get to open up shop in people’s neighborhoods. Members of the audience of about 50 to 60 who attended the forum at Muskegon Community College’s Stephenson Center affirmed their concern about that issue, feeling as if outsiders with cash will exploit local neighborhoods.

In addition, as Monahan pointed out, there have already been destructive results for poorer neighborhoods brought on by the criminalization of marijuana possession. When asked why the ACLU cares about cannabis issues, she said that it is a fairness issue. “Black men and women are almost four times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana offenses,” she said. “In Michigan it’s about 3.5 times as likely, but in some states it’s 13 times.” And as Vandenberg had already pointed out, it is people of color and people in poverty who are incarcerated for marijuana possession – people of means can buy their way out of the problem.

King asked the panelists if they supported full legalization. Vandenberg and Monahan said yes; Monahan added that with recent polls showing over 60% support for it, “the writing is on the wall.”

Dr. Crandall said that he supported medical marijuana but was not sure about recreational use. Previously in the discussion he had called for more research into marijuana, how it works, and what the drawbacks might be, and in response to King’s question he said that he would like to see that research first.

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