Crowd finds out startling facts about the prohibition of marijuana


Photos by Cynthia Price

By Cynthia Price


In answer to the question posed by moderator Roberta King at last week’s Marijuana Watch Us Grow panel discussion, “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.”

The educational session on marijuana was held by the Muskegon/Lakeshore affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Western Michigan Unit. Monahan is the president of the whole Grand Rapids-based unit, which also holds meetings in Grand Rapids.

She has also recently joined the Cannalex law firm, which is part of Wrigley, Hoffman and Hendricks; Bob Hendricks has been featured in these pages, along with moderator King of Canna Communication.

Additional panelists included activist Tami Vandenberg, an award-winning business owner in Grand Rapids who is also on the board of MI Legalize, which ran the petition drive to put the question of whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use on the November ballot; and a pinch-hitter, the well-known Dr. Donald Crandall, who was in attendance as a resource and agreed to fill in for Dr. Marla S. Gendelman of Liberate Pain Management, who had an emergency arise. Dr. Crandall, now in retirement, has been researching the subject of 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.

In fact, even the name marijuana 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 the week before 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 Marijuana Facilities Act, the panel discussed 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 an average business person 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 practices 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.

With the likelihood that recreational use of marijuana will be on the ballot this fall – MI Legalize turned in many more signatures than required and is awaiting their certification – King asked the panelists if they supported full legalization. Vandenberg and Monahan said yes; Monahan added that with recent polls showing about 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.

Audience questions ranged from what to do about community pushback to marijuana legalization or decriminalization to whether the use of chemicals in growing cannabis could mean it might be harmful to health to questions about the nature of addiction itself.