Pubdate: Fri, 04 Apr 2014
Source: Triangle, The (Drexel U, PA Edu)
Copyright: 2014 The Triangle
Author: Allison Starr


Eric Sterling, president and co-founder of the Criminal Justice Policy
Foundation, came to speak at Drexel Law School March 24 about the
complicated and contradictory legislation behind marijuana.

Sterling, whose past activist involvement includes the anti-Vietnam
War movement, believes that the United States' current drug policy is
counterproductive. A graduate of Haverford College and Villanova
University School of Law, he has been an adviser for Students for
Sensible Drug Policy since 2000 and the chair of the Alcohol and Other
Drug Advisory Council in Montgomery County, Md.

According to Sterling, hearings about the decriminalization of
marijuana were held in Pennsylvania in 1976. To this day, marijuana
has not been decriminalized in the state. He noted, however, that 40
percent of the Villanova law students he surveyed at the time used or
had used the drug. He said that people are against the legalization of
cannabis now because they see a "historical flashback in which
[they're] not looking at what [they] really know" about marijuana.
"[It's] a form of cultural persecution," Sterling said.

During the talk, Sterling shared several facts about the legality of
marijuana. For example, there are 7,000 pot-related persecutions by
the federal government each year, and 800,000 people have been
persecuted. Article Six of the Constitution refers to federal law as
"the supreme law of the land," yet 20 states allow medical cannabis
usage; a contradiction exists. 40,000 people are in jail on the state
level for marijuana charges. Growing pot without a license, whether
for medicinal or recreational purposes, is considered a felony. "What
justifies [punishment] is that your conduct is unlawful," he said. "In
terms of marijuana, where is the wrongfulness?"

In a comparison to alcohol, Sterling noted that the nation takes legal
action against those driving impaired, and yet alcohol is not banned
because of drunk driving. Sterling said that only nine percent of
people who use marijuana develop an addiction, compared to 15 percent
who use alcohol.

Another issue to consider is that there is no longer a clear majority
on the subject of cannabis. "How [does] 51 percent of the public get
to say 49 percent of the public belong[s] in prison?" he asked. "[In]
most of what we think of as the law, there is a clear consensus."

Other prejudices come into play against pot as well, according to
Sterling. In all of the states, the majority of marijuana persecution
is against African Americans. "It's about maintaining white
privilege," Sterling said. He compared cannabis laws to the "Swiss
Army knife of a cop," because they use the pretense of looking for
marijuana to investigate African Americans whom they consider

The matter becomes more complicated when it comes to medical cannabis.
Sterling talked about a 2012 visit to Venice Beach, Calif., when he
was approached five times in 20 minutes by "doctors" offering
easy-to-get marijuana and believed that "bona fide patients" get lost
in the crowd.

"The public health sector would probably be okay [with] medical uses
[of marijuana], but [regular usage] leaves more to consider, like
addiction, second-hand smoke and a gateway to alternative lifestyles,"
Viren Doshi, a second-year Juris Doctor-Master of Public Health
student, said.

The difference between the two types, Evan Gooberman, a first-year
Master of Public Health student, said, is the level of
tetrahydrocannabinol. Also known as THC, this chemical is concentrated
in substances designed for medical use (such as pills). Medical
marijuana is often milder than its street counterpart.

The future of cannabis as a cash crop is also dismal. "Legal marijuana
is going to be inexpensive marijuana. It is not that hard to produce,"
Sterling said. "Profits would be short-term." He theorized that free
joints would even be offered at restaurants, to encourage patrons to
buy more food.

Overall, the event proved to be enlightening for the students in
attendance. "The way he stated the way there isn't much opposition to
[marijuana] as there used to be ... astounds me," Gooberman said. "They
try to target the high-end dealers, but they go against the low-end
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D