Equality New Mexico is proud to partner with O.penVape and OutFront Minnesota to bring attention to marijuana legalization and why it is a social justice issue of importance to the LGBTQ community. The above ad is featured as part of the Equality Federation 2016 Leadership Conference in Portland, Oregon.
Why Do We Support Legalization?
People of color use marijuana at the same rates as white people, but are nearly four times more likely to get arrested or cited for it.
In 2010, the Black arrest rate for marijuana possession was 716 per 100,000, while the white arrest rate was 192 per 100,000.
PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
"...American prisons are now contracted out as for-profit businesses to for-profit companies. The companies are paid by the state, and their profit depends on spending as little as possible on the prisoners and the prisons. It's hard to imagine any greater disconnect between public good and private profit: the interest of private prisons lies not in the obvious social good of having the minimum necessary number of inmates but in having as many as possible, housed as cheaply as possible."
"[The war on drugs] has resulted in a 53% increase in drug arrests, a 188% increase in the number of people arrested for marijuana offenses, and a 52% increase in the number of people in state prisons for drug offenses, between 1990 and 2010...while [the United States] accounts for 5% of the world’s population, it has 25% of the world’s prison population."
MEDICAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
Big Pharma is one of the biggest opponents to marijuana legalization because fewer pills = fewer profits. In 2014, pharmaceutical companies paid out more than $3,530,000,000 to doctors and hospitals, and $178,850,000 was spent by Big Pharma on lobbying Congress in 2015.
Marijuana can provide significant health benefits, especially for people with chronic illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and mental health conditions such as PTSD.
To date, there have been zero recorded cases of overdose deaths due to marijuana. In 2014, the CDC reported nearly 19,000 deaths due to pharmaceutical opioids.
Alcohol and Big Tobacco are also invested in anti-marijuana campaigns and lobbying.
LGBTQ COMMUNITY IMPACTS
It is estimated that 20-30% of LGBTQ people use drugs, compared with 9% of the general population. Problematic drug use may result from ongoing experiences of stigma, discrimination, and violence compounded with barriers to health care. For this reason, LGBTQ people are disproportionately impacted by harmful drug policies.
Young people experience high rates of marijuana possession charges, and LGBTQ youth are more likely to be arrested or targeted than the general youth population due to homophobia, transphobia, and other gender and sexuality biases. Decriminalization helps keep LGBTQ youth out of the juvenile justice system.
For people living with HIV/AIDS, cannabis is often the best medicine with the least severe side effects, allowing them to participate in more aspects of their lives.
Many LGBTQ people are also military veterans, and marijuana has been shown to reduce the symptoms and impacts of chronic pain and PTSD.
Marijuana is not only easy to grow and/or access, it also:
- redirects profits from BigPharma, alcohol, and tobacco industries to individuals, small businesses, agriculture, sustainable building and manufacturing (hemp!),
- is a step in dismantling prisons for profit and racist policing, and
- provides health benefits that can reduce the need for other medications, treatments, and harmful behaviors.
Critical Issues & Questions
RACIAL & ECONOMIC JUSTICE
The emerging legal marijuana industry is largely white. What about POC⎯mostly young Black men⎯who engaged in marijuana distribution as a survival economy under white supremacy, but once were or are now behind bars for it? A felony offense allows legal discrimination in matters of employment, public housing, student loans, and other public assistance, creating significantly more⎯and more severe⎯barriers for POC than for white people in all aspects of life, period.
Who is given access to business licenses? Who is zoned out of city limits? Racist redlining with loans, permits, and other resources to build a business is a common and old practice.
PRIVACY & SAFETY
There is significant debate on how to effectively regulate marijuana and the operation of motor vehicles. How can a "legal limit" be established? How is that limit assessed by law enforcement? What about medicinal patients who generally consume larger amounts on a daily basis, as compared to recreational users? Marijuana is detectable in the human system longer than alcohol and other substances; what about testing for opioid and other prescription drug influence?
HEALING VS. COPING
Marijuana can provide significant physical and mental health benefits, as well as the opportunity to engage in recreational use that is far less dangerous than other substances like alcohol. As is true with many, if not most, substances and behaviors, it is possible to reach a place of self harm. That place looks and feels different for each of us.
Because marijuana is a substance that alters the state of mind and body, it is important to be mindful of our motivations. Are we healing, coping, struggling? Is this a permanent or temporary solution, or does it depend on the situation? The answers to these questions are less important than acknowledging them to be true, while also acknowledging that everyone is unique in their own experience.