Compassion and Racial Justice, or Criminalization?

Compassion and Racial Justice, or Criminalization?
Posted by CN Staff on June 14, 2007 at 13:15:49 PT
By Lorenzo Jones
Source: Huffington Post
Connecticut -- Early this month, the Connecticut State Senate passed House Bill 6715, the Compassionate Use Act. The bill passed 23-13 after clearing the House of Representatives 89-58 weeks earlier. The bill is now on its way to Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Despite overwhelming public support for medical marijuana in CT -- a 2004 poll by the University of Connecticut found that 83% of Connecticut residents support it -- Governor Rell continues to express reservations. What's Rell's hold-up? If she's interested in protecting the most vulnerable in our state, she should sign the bill.
Connecticut has debated this issue for five years now, and this is the first time that a medical marijuana bill has been sent to the Governor's desk. It's long overdue--thousands of Connecticut residents live with crippling pain, suffering with cancer and HIV/AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis and other ailments. As in other states, the CT law would allow Connecticut residents with thes and other debilitating medical conditions to cultivate and use marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a practicing physician.But the law would do something else, too: it would protect patients of color in urban areas who are often the target of racial profiling and marijuana arrests. Research shows that Blacks and Hispanics are arrested for marijuana possession at higher rates than whites, despite the fact that whites use marijuana at higher rates. At my organization, A Better Way Foundation (ABWF), our members of color discuss being afraid of using marijuana for medical reasons for fear of arrest and racial profiling. Many of us have lost family members to cancer or AIDS, or are ourselves survivors. But the medical marijuana debate--either in CT or anywhere else in the country-- had never included a racial justice framework to address the police profiling of communities of color. With the State Organizing and Policy Project at Drug Policy Alliance, we embarked on a year-long process of developing key arguments for medical marijuana that utilized a racial justice approach and supported our overall organizing efforts:Racial justice - Patients and caregivers of color need the protections provided by this bill because we are the ones most likely to be detained, arrested, and convicted for marijuana. Public health - People should not go to prison for using something that they and their doctor agree improves their quality of life. Compassion - People shouldn't have to fight for the right to live comfortably and caregivers shouldn't have to deal with the paranoia or guilt for using a treatment that improves their quality of life. Public/youth safety - Marijuana use by youth has actually decreased in states that have passed medical marijuana laws. We have an opportunity to reframe the discussion around drug use among young people. Christian scripture - Genesis Chap. 1:11-12 Then God said, "Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it, according to their kinds. And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: seed-bearing plants according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it, according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good." Organizing strategies - We are organizing voters and non-marijuana smokers to advocate for patients, doctors, and caregivers because patients, doctors and caregivers are the most vulnerable on this issue.The racial justice organizing framework that helped to create a seismic shift in CT politics: the Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus became a staunch supporter of HB 6715, joining with conservative Republicans and progressive and moderate Democrats in a bi-partisan alliance never before seen in Connecticut.This shift arguably led to the bill's passage -- in previous years the Caucus was either neutral or oppositional to medical marijuana. Caucus member and Deputy Speaker of the House, Rep. Marie Kirkley-Bey, was almost single-handedly responsible for killing medical marijuana in previous years with her "tough on drugs" stance. It was lamentable, and her concern was understandable -- Rep. Kirkley-Bey represents a district that has been devastated by poverty, violence, and addiction. But after witnessing the severe suffering of two close family members who died of cancer last year, she became one of the staunchest supporters of HB 6715. "Compassion," Rep. Kirley-Bey said in a recent press conference, "must guide our policies for our most vulnerable community members."The racial justice shift around marijuana did not just take place within the Legislature. After a year of organizing by ABWF, medical marijuana became a source of conversation, dialogue, and debate in Black social, political, and religious institutions around the state, and the oldest Black paper in the Northeast, the NorthEnd Agent, made the issue an ongoing focus in the paper for the entire Legislative Session. For the first time, medical marijuana was a key issue in communities of color in Connecticut.We haven't won yet: we still need the Governor to sign the bill. She's continued to express reservations in the media, despite the overwhelming public support and scientific research behind medical marijuana. Family members and patients are taking action to ensure the bill gets signed: "I am just 32 years old and yet due to my medical condition I feel as if, at times, I am 92," said Joshua Warren, a patient in Wilton, CT, who suffers from Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease. "I did not ask for this condition nor would I wish any of my pain and other symptoms on anyone else. I hope Governor Rell will have compassion for me and others and signs this bill." Joshua and his Grandfather have been calling the Governor every day, urging her support.My own family has also sprung into action--my wife's family put together a family letter about their grandfather who died of testicular cancer. When the cancer had spread through his body and brain, and was suffering terribly, the adult grandchildren offered to buy him marijuana to try to ease the pain. He refused the marijuana because it was illegal -- he didn't want his children and grandchildren to break the law. If a law like HB 6715 was passed at that time, he not only could have felt better physically but he would have felt better personally as a law abiding citizen.There are now 12 states with medical marijuana--New Mexico passed a medical marijuana bill in March. Last month, Rhode Island voted to make their law permanent, and just weeks ago Vermont voted to expand their medical marijuana law. Other medical marijuana bills are currently under consideration in such states as New Jersey, New York and Alabama.This bill will help alleviate the feelings of helplessness that families face when their loved ones suffer. We've believed all along that compassion, fairness, and justice would bring this bill to final passage. Will Governor Rell support compassion and racial justice, or will patients and communities of color continue to be criminalized? The choice is in Rell's hands. We know she'll do the right thing. In fact, we're counting on it.Complete Title: Compassion and Racial Justice, or Criminalization? It's in Gov. Rell's HandsSource: Huffington Post (NY)Author: Lorenzo Jones Published: June 14, 2007Copyright: 2007, LLC URL: scoop huffingtonpost.comWebsite: Articles:Montel Williams Makes the Case for Medical Pot Oppose Legalizing Medical Marijuana Law in Connecticut Gains Ground
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