These are my comments, speaking notes, as prepared for the 2016 Madison County Legislative Forum, January 25 in Huntsville, Alabama. These forums are held throughout the state at the beginning of the legislative session, as an opportunity to inform state representatives on the issues that the citizens feel are important.
I was the very last speaker in the line-up, and it looked like I had been missed, or something. If I had been more politically seasoned, I should have spoke up then, but I was packing up to go home when Representative Laura Hall (D), who coincidentally filed the first medical marijuana bill in the state, and was directing the forum, said that they had missed one person, and that one person was me. So I pulled my stuff back out, stumbled to the podium, and brought up the rear. I have been variously involved in and covered a number of political and social issues, marijuana prohibition is just one of them, and was my topic that evening. Updates and comments are in [brackets].
My name is Regina Garson. Writer, editor, blogger, and former teacher.
My topic is medical marijuana, prohibition, and mass incarceration.
From the start, marijuana prohibition was a political maneuver by some very powerful people who saw it as a way to make money, lots of money. Never mind the rights, health, or well-being of the people who were affected.
When the new prohibition laws passed, marijuana, hemp, and cannabis were all made illegal. Although all in the same family, and the words used interchangeably, different strains are used for different purposes. Hemp for instance has numerous industrial applications, for a lot of the same purposes as petroleum. I am going to focus on cannabis and the medical applications.
Before marijuana prohibition, cannabis was one of the most frequently prescribed medications in the US. It is used for conditions, such as cancer, MS, chronic pain, arthritis, digestive disorders, PTSD, Parkinson’s, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, nausea, and epilepsy. For some forms of childhood epilepsy, it is the only thing that works. Its oil is also coincidentally one of the most nutritious in nature.
Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and DC. Here in Alabama, we’ve got a start on CBD oil, but it is only for children and they are not the only ones with a medical need [Sonja Renea did an excellent report updating on Carly’s law and CBD only issues]. There has been discussion of this and other uses of medical marijuana.
In the meantime, we have had decades of propaganda to convince us that a very effective medication with very few side effects is actually an evil weed. [Steve Elliot, originally from north Alabama, has done much to educate on these issues.)
A whole industry has grown up that makes its money from the war on drugs. Success is measured by how many people they lock up for how long. And they are sure doing a good job on that one, and in the process doing major damage to communities, families, and individuals across the country.
This is not to negate the fact that some people really do need help with a drug problem, but people are not getting the help they need either. As with alcohol prohibition, the illicit nature of marijuana prohibition breeds violence and crime.
The US has the largest prison population in the history of the world. For as long as history has been written, there has never been a nation with a larger prison population. A large percentage incarcerated for drugs and non-violent crimes. And Alabama is right near the top of that list. It is no secret that the Alabama prison system is overcrowded. Despite recent efforts, the state prison system is always under investigation for something, and always under Federal orders to fix something.
The poor economic condition of the state spills over into the poor conditions of our prisons. We spend our efforts keeping people locked in cages instead of turning them into productive citizens. And then we wonder why we are always at the bottom of everything.
States that have legalized marijuana have seen tremendous economic benefits [Greg Kayne for this update]. Others limp along, many depending on the income generated from the war on drugs. Although the prisons in our state are not privatized, a lot of money and jobs are generated by the war on drugs. But is this really in the best interest of our state and the people in it?
We have a lot of work that needs to be done in Alabama. For now, I’d like to ask that cannabis based medications be made available by prescription in the state. A bill is coming up to that effect, Leni’s Law [since the date of the forum, Representative Patricia Todd (D) has also introduced a bill to decriminalize one ounce of marijuana]. As to the issues of mass incarceration and the profits being made off the war on drugs, consider it all going forward, those are real human beings behind those bars, and they are our people.
1) Hemp/cannabis/marijuana has been cultivated for thousands of years. It has been used to make a long list of products, rope, sails, paper, etc. Its oil is one of the most nutritious in nature. Cannabis has been part of the world pharmacopoeia for thousands of those years. For many conditions, it has long been the treatment of choice (Garson).
2) Medical Marijuana is now legal in 23 states and DC (ProCon.org).
3) Despite the fact that polls show an increasing percentage of the US population feels that marijuana should be legalized (Pew Research), since Nixon declared the War on Drugs, the US has increasingly locked up more and more people and spent more and more money doing so. The US now has the highest prison population rate in the world; 25% of the people incarcerated in the entire world are in US jails and prisons (ICPS).
4) “More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the ‘war on drugs,’ in which two-thirds of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color.” (The Sentencing Project)
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