Pubdate: Mon, 10 Feb 2014
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2014 New Haven Register
Author: James S. Walker


I felt pretty good heading into Black History Month. I ended 2013 on 
a high note, had settled quite nicely into my new job as metro editor 
at the Register and with the help of newsroom staff, had put together 
a good group of stories that represented a crosssection of the black community.

So I was feeling a bit heady on the eve of Black History Month as I 
sat down to edit a story about a man awarded a site in West Haven to 
grow "medical marijuana."

But as I read, it got me to thinking. Earlier in my career, I was 
affectionately called the "righteous and indignation" reporter for 
taking on stories for those without a voice. And this is one of them 
because the lives of thousands of black men have been ruined because 
they sold marijuana to people who simply enjoyed smoking it.

So, let's talk about marijuana, or, if you prefer other terms, 
medical marijuana, cannabis, weed, reefer or pot. But no matter what 
term you use, it is still marijuana, folks.

And whether it's through personal experience or friends or learned 
about through books, newspapers or television, everybody knows about 
the green leafy substance that has been puffed worldwide for 
centuries and arguably came out of the closet in the United States 
during the radical '60s.

So let's talk about America's hypocrisy as it inches toward 
legalization of the fragrant plant with its instantly recognizable, 
distinctive aroma.

Connecticut, in my opinion, is one is those states that will sooner, 
rather than later, join Washington and Colorado in legalizing it for 
recreational use. Approving "medical marijuana" is just the prelude.

And herein lies the hypocrisy.

The state is telling us it's OK to smoke marijuana for "medical use" 
but if you just want to smoke it because you like it and it makes you 
feel good, then that's criminal? What a crock. Otherwise law-abiding 
citizens in Connecticut are busted every day attempting to buy it or 
because they are caught in possession of it.

Jails and prisons in Connecticut house thousands of young and older 
black men imprisoned for selling the exact same product that with the 
stroke of a pen and under the guise of "medical marijuana," other men 
can now step in, put up the millions it takes to get going and make billions.

Yes, the state did decriminalize possession of small amounts (less 
than a half-ounce) of marijuana in 2011, but big deal: All that means 
is if you are caught with it, you'll pay the state a hefty $150 for 
the first offense and the price goes as high as $500 if you're caught 
again. And jail is still a possibility.

The hypocrisy of this is unsettling.

I don't dispute the benefits of medical marijuana; heck, patients 
have been telling doctors and officials for decades that marijuana 
was what they needed even as many placed themselves in dangerous 
situations to buy it - the same situations that otherwise law-abiding 
citizens who smoke it for pleasure find themselves in every day. The 
king of potheads himself, Tommy Chong, may have said it best in the 
Cheech and Chong movie "Things Are Tough All Over," when he uttered 
the line "sometimes it's not even the drugs that'll kill you, man. 
What really kills you is looking for drugs."

But this isn't a Cheech and Chong movie. This is Reality America, and 
we're live.

Black families have been ripped apart, our neighborhoods destroyed, 
our young men's lives reduced to steel bars and regimented orders, 
not to mention being labeled "dealer" and the stain associated with 
that. It is hard to imagine the images seared into the minds of 
children who watched their mothers and fathers handcuffed and hauled 
off - all for selling the same product that will now more than likely 
spawn the next generation of billionaires.

More than half the country believes marijuana should be legalized, 
but people are handcuffed every day in Connecticut because of it.

Presidents have admitted smoking it, members of Congress have 
admitted smoking it, as have police, firefighters, mayors, governors, 
doctors, nurses, teachers, designers, TV personalities, journalists, 
sports heroes, butchers, bakers and dishwashers - and I would be 
remiss not to include a metro editor. And the only medicinal purpose 
for any of us was the euphoria that came with each puff.

That doesn't mean smoking marijuana doesn't come without risk but 
neither does drinking alcohol, which accounted for more than $400 
billion in U.S. economic activity in 2010, according to the Distilled 
Spirits Council.

The people who smoke marijuana and are successful share one common 
trait with people who drink alcohol and are also successful: They 
don't abuse it. Even the president believes this shouldn't be a legal 
issue, but a health issue if abused.

Many of the men and women who created and enforced our laws during 
the past few decades have known for years that marijuana isn't the 
harmful, whacked-out drug that leads to instant addiction and a life 
on the skids.

But even as black men rot in jail for selling it, many of those same 
people go home with their lips sealed and light it up. So do millions 
of Americans. So it begs the question: Why are thousands of black men 
whose only crime is selling "marijuana" - not crack, not cocaine, not 
heroin, not PCP or other drugs - in jail? Why have their lives and 
futures been taken away from them?

So, yes, let's talk about marijuana and the hypocrisy of America.

Because as she creeps toward legalization and the politicians on both 
sides take the time to beat their breasts for their constituents in 
the halls of state and national capitals, it should be remembered 
that tens of thousands of black men will either still be in prison, 
in the process of being released or back on the streets, uneducated 
and stigmatized - and probably a little angry that "other" men are 
now able to reap billions because America rests easier with marijuana 
under the guise of "medicine." What a crock. Call it what you want 
folks, it's still marijuana - and something smells here. In fact, 
given the history of blacks in America, it downright stinks.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom