Breaking down barriers begins with a conversation. Spark the Conversation, founded by Bianca Green (formerly Barnhill), has set out to do just that in California. The mission of Spark the Conversation is to change the social stigma of Cannabis and the people who use it. Currently, the organization is traveling up and down California on a bus tour speaking in major cities throughout California. A former model and proponent of drug policy reform, Ms. Green is using her connections with celebrities to help break down barriers and create a conversation about the need for reform. Spark the Conversation is also videotaping people and asking people to upload 15-60 second videos introducing themselves as Cannabis consumers and to showcase how Cannabis consumption has impacted their life, their advocacy work and anything they want to say to show the rest of the world that cannabis consumers are normal, everyday contributing members of society. Cannabis consumers are encouraged to upload their videos onto social media using the hashtags #HelloMyNameIs, #sparktheconversation and #bethechange.
What Ms. Green is doing is revolutionary. She is bringing together two groups of people, celebrities and Cannabis consumers, to bring about more awareness for drug policy reform and we hope that this effort quickly gains traction across the nation. With elections around the corner with multiple Cannabis related issues on the ballot, now is the time to show the world that we are coming out of the cannabis closet. However, it doesn’t stop there. Legalizing Cannabis is not the end game. For the record, the Cannabis Consumers Coalition supports removing Cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act altogether, not just legalizing and creating more protectionist regulations. Legalizing has not resulted in a significant drop in arrests in minority communities, and blacks and Hispanics are still disproportionally arrested in states that have decriminalized or legalized cannabis use. Legalizing Cannabis is just one step to ending the war on drugs, which is a $2 trillion failure that has also completely failed at keeping people from using drugs and instead has enriched the prison industrial complex.
Spark the Conversation is fighting back against these failed policies by challenging people to speak out against it. The root of the drug war is not even related to public safety, it was an attack from the status quo against black people and the counter-culture movement during a time when the Civil Rights movement had just changed federal and constitutional law, and hippies were protesting war all across the country. Richard Nixon’s former domestic affairs advisor, John Ehrlichman was quoted in 1994 stating for an 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, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
This statement is backed by Nixon’s behavior creating the Controlled Substance Act. He created a commission, National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, also known as the Shafer commission, to determine whether Cannabis should be added to the act. The Shafer Commission determined that no, because Cannabis did have medicinal value and that it was not habit forming like other substances, and therefore should not be added to that act. Nixon went against their advice and officially launched the war on drugs with Cannabis eradication becoming the number one priority across the United States.
Since then, and unprecedented amount of people have been arrested and the United States now has the largest prison population in the world, 25%, while only encompassing 5% of the global population. Those statistics are nothing short of shocking when we are supposed to be a free nation. Cannabis of course makes up the majority of those arrests and has been the largest budget for law enforcement for decades. The good news is that Cannabis prohibition is crumbling across the nation with the majority of states and Washington, DC decriminalizing cannabis and legalizing it for medicinal and recreational use. The fight is far from over, and states that have legalized are experiencing backlash from law enforcement and prohibition groups. Now is the time to seize the momentum of the changes in Cannabis laws across the country and have open conversations about ending failed drug policies.
Cannabis and drug use has a long history in the performing arts, whether in film or in music. Portrayals of drug use can highlight the harms of substance abuse, or highlight the humor and normalcy of adult consumption. It is fitting that celebrities would join the conversation to finally pull the plug on one of the worst policies ever created in the United States, especially one that has been behind so many human and civil rights abuses. Now is the time to get the conversation to change hearts and minds. For more information on Spark the Conversation, to see bus tour stops and dates and to receive their monthly newsletter, visit www.sparktheconversation.org.