Pubdate: Tue, 19 Mar 2013
Source: Red and Black, The (U of Georgia, GA Edu)
Copyright: 2013 The Red and Black Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: Brad Mannion


ATLANTA - It looks like lobbyists and activists are pushing for higher
expectations when it comes to marijuana legalization.

Friday marked the beginning of the Southern Cannabis Reform Conference,
where more than 50 advocates from across the nation came to Atlanta to
"unite organizations working for the reform of marijuana laws."
A joint effort between organizations such as the NORML Women's Alliance,
Peachtree NORML, Moms for Marijuana and Law Enforcement Against
Prohibition joined together for the two-day conference to promote
advocacy and encourage citizens to get the message out to local legislators.

While some consider having a cannabis conference in the South
controversial, Sabrina Fendrick - founder of the NORML Women's Alliance
- - said it is the perfect location to rally advocates of the plant due to
the conservatism of the South.

"It is important to say, yet impossible to deny, the South has been
lacking in marijuana reformation," Fendrick said.

Fendrick also addressed the topic of criminalizing - and stereotyping
- - those charged with marijuana-related crimes. A marijuana-related
arrest is made every 42 seconds, which only adds to the approximate
21.6 million arrests made since the War on Drugs was implemented by
the Nixon administration.

"These arrests [for marijuana] produce lifelong criminal records which
leads to what many call legal discrimination - denied employment,
housing, education, public benefits and, in some cases, even voting
rights," Fendrick said.

This fact does not include that minorities are predisposed to being
criminalized for marijuana, Fendrick said. Every year, approximately
90 percent of marijuana related arrests in the Atlanta area are
African Americans. "There is no question that prohibition is a racial
issue," Fendrick said. "African Americans and Latinos are arrested for
marijuana events at dramatically higher rates than whites - even
though they are no more likely to use or possess marijuana. The racial
disparity of arrest is both uncivilized and un-American."

But this criminalization affects people of all races, genders,
ethnicities and backgrounds, and the issue has become both a "civil
rights [and] human issue," said James Bell, founder of The Georgia
Campaign for Access, Reform and Education.

"Some have come to call this prohibition 'the new Jim Crow' or 'the
new American apartheid,'" Fendrick said. "Both are systems of control
against a specific population."

Economically, legalization would also provide jobs and keep track of
where the money is going when marijuana is purchased. "We are doing a
vast disservice to our country by not doing industrial hemp," said
Diane Wattles Goldstein, a former lieutenant commander for the Redondo
Beach Police in California and a member of L.E.A.P. "We fund
terrorism. We fund drug cartels. We don't fund for safety."

Considering the seminar is only in its first year, many members of the
audience were impressed with the influence and attention it had
generated. "The speakers are fantastic," said Ben Consuegra, a senior
English major from Roswell and the president of the University of
Georgia's Students for a Sensible Drug Policy. "I'm surprised there
are this many people here this early on Friday. Being that it's the
first one, I wish turnout was a little higher, but it's really good. I
think that the fact that it happened is a really good thing, and now
that we all have seen it happen, we know that the next one can be a
little bit bigger." While high attendance was a preference, the goal
of the conference was to inform people of their liberties and provide
a voice for citizens' freedoms now and in the future.

"Equality means dignity, and dignity demands a job and the right to
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Fendrick said.
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