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.
Social use for cannabis consumers is one step closer to becoming a reality in Denver, and we are excited to announce our official endorsement of Denver, CO’s Initiative 300, Denver’s Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program. Social use is long overdue. It is almost too incredible to believe that four years after legalizing for recreational use, and 16 years since Amendment 20 was passed to permit medicinal use, that the majority of the state does not have laws to permit the social use of cannabis in public places. We not only endorse I-300, we believe the initiative to be the best model for other localities experimenting with cannabis legalization and social use.
Colorado made history in 2012 when voter elected to legalize the use of recreational cannabis. In 2001, Amendment 20 passed allowing Coloradans to use medicinal cannabis. In all of these years, cannabis consumers, both medical and recreational, have been struggling to find a place to consume that does not get shut down within a few months of opening. Some places have managed to stay open and expand, such as iBake, a Cannabis Consumers Coalition favorite for the community work they have done through the years. A few places in Colorado Springs have managed to obtain business licenses. With the exception of these very few places, Outside of private residences, cannabis consumers, and tourists specifically, have nowhere to go and risk receiving tickets for public consumption. Colorado voters with children at home, or who want to socialize with like-minded people, have nowhere to go to socialize with like-minded people despite voting for the right to use cannabis legally.
I-300 is a perfect solution gives small businesses, like bars and restaurants, permission to allow consumption of cannabis in designated areas, much like smoking outdoors in a designated area, away from patrons. A four-year pilot program, it gives an opportunity for small businesses, and not just bars, a chance to allow indoor consumption in the form of edibles and vaporizing, and outdoor smoking options to abide by the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act. Most importantly, it gives non cannabis consumers who are also community stakeholders a say in what is happening in their neighborhoods. This is a critical because there has been upset within neighborhoods regarding what some feel to be an encroachment on their own ability to voice whether or not they want cannabis in their neighborhood. This is one of the reasons that Denver issued a moratorium on new cannabis business licenses.
Kayvan Khalatbari with Denver Relief Consulting, and former co-owner of Denver Relief Dispensary, is behind the initiative, says about the initiative, “In Denver we’ve legalized the purchase and possession of cannabis for adults but have not provided them with a safe and discreet place to consume it away from city sidewalks, parks and places where children congregate. The City of Denver Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program is a responsible approach to solving this problem that won’t remedy itself. It will provide designated spaces in certain City-permitted business establishments where adults 21 and over can consume cannabis in accordance with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act and out of view of the public. Several states will be voting on similar measures this fall, while the Colorado Legislature considered a bill this year on the topic. Two new potential iterations are currently being crafted for this coming spring’s legislative session. The problem stems from the fact that many residents of Denver live in HOA or landlord-controlled properties that disallow cannabis use on the premises, while more than 70 million tourists come to Colorado each year, also with no place to go. This has led to a 500% increase in public consumption tickets issued in Denver since the passing of Amendment 64 in Colorado, with African-Americans being arrested at a rate 2.6 times higher than whites.”
Clearly, with a 500% increase in public consumption tickets and continued disparity among arrests, social use is very much needed not just in Denver, but in all of Colorado. Attempts by Vicente Sederberg LLC to collect signatures for a social use ballot was widely successful, but the campaign was abandoned to work with local businesses and City Council-members on a solution. Denver NORML had tried to get a social use initiative permitting social use clubs via private membership style clubs with a provision to allow for special event permitting. The group failed to gather enough signatures. In our opinion, any social use measure is a baby step in the right direction for cannabis consumers; however, we do believe that I-300 is a more inclusive bill that considers all stakeholders. With I-300, neighborhoods get a very large say in what happens in their immediate communities, and business owners also have a chance to compete for a larger market share. It a win for all stakeholders involved if successful, which we have faith that it will be.
By now, most if not all of Denver residents have received their ballots and Denver Elections are on November 8, 2016. Remember to vote YES on I-300!
Election Day is just weeks away, and being a presidential election, the turnout will be the highest of any election year, and Cannabis consumers across the country in multiple states will also be voting to legalize Cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes. There are five states with recreational Cannabis on the ballot and four states with medical Cannabis on the ballot. If anyone of them pass, the majority of the country will have some sort of legal Cannabis. It will be interesting to see how this whole process rolls out under whoever is elected. Officially, the Cannabis Consumers Coalition supports decriminalization and we will be pushing for that regardless of who is elected. Full decriminalization will let creativity roam and be the best solution for a free, yet sensibly regulated, consumer-centric market.
The Cannabis Consumers Coalition does not endorse any single candidate, and this is being written to educate Cannabis consumers on the positions that candidates have on Cannabis. There is a lot of cagey rhetoric as the candidates dance around the issue and seek to provide some clarity on the stances that the candidates have, and the impact on the country and progress we have made ending cannabis prohibition. We have also included third-party candidates because we as an organization strive to be inclusive, even in politics, knowing that our members and merchant partners carry different views, with the common goal of freeing Cannabis from prohibition. As to be expected, major party candidates are taking the safe route to appease the broad spectrum of their voting base, and the third-party candidates (and their supporters), have been very vocal about their support for some sort of legalization or decriminalization. We focus heavily on Hillary Clinton, not because of her possibility of being elected president, but because she has recently been vocal about supporting changing cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule II narcotic on the Controlled Substance Act, and it’s important for cannabis consumers to know the implications of this designation.
Hillary Clinton has come out in favor for rescheduling Cannabis to Schedule II narcotic after a history of being “tough on drugs” during her husband’s presidential terms. A very important bill in being heard by the Judicial Committee in Congress called the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, and is a federal bill that would reschedule Cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule II narcotic. While at the surface this seems a step forward in terms of easing restrictions on Cannabis research, if passed, a Schedule II designation at worst could set ending Cannabis prohibition back another 100 years. The bill states to respect state rights, and Clinton has said that she would allow current experiments in democracies continue, the reality is that Congress could easily pass in a bill a measure amend the bill to defund support for states with medical and recreational marijuana while increasing spending for federal enforcement of the Controlled Substance Act, and the pharmaceutical industry would benefit greatly from controlling cannabis, particularly in isolating cannabinoids and creating specific medications.
Worst still, rescheduling Cannabis to Schedule II would still be enforced by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and nothing, absolutely nothing, will change in terms of the unprecedented incarceration rates for nonviolent drug offenses, a problem her husband’s administration created. Supporting Schedule II is a very questionable stance for those who support decriminalization as well as for those who are want the drug war to end and to implement harm reduction policies that treat drug use as a health issue because it changes nothing with how it is enforced under the Controlled Substance Act.
To understand the importance of the risk of rescheduling cannabis to schedule II, it is important to understand the sordid past between Cannabis and the Controlled Substances Act. Prior to 1937, when the war on Cannabis effectively started, almost everyone with a plot of land grew hemp and Cannabis for practical and medicinal purposes. The Marijuana Tax Act was passed to curb that behavior and started demonizing the devil’s lettuce for political reasons to advance other special interests that Cannabis impeded. Fast forward to 1969, years into the counter-culture movement when the peace movement started, and people began questioning the status quo and their policies while protesting in the streets in massive groups demanding things like civil rights and peace, and smoking a lot of weed and experimenting with other hallucinogenic drugs in the process. In response to the counter-culture movement, Americans elected a very conservative (and very corrupt) president, Richard Nixon, who created the Controlled Substance Act, formed the DEA, and then added Cannabis, which was connected to the feared counter-culture, as a Schedule I narcotic, a category for drugs that are highly addicting with no medicinal value. Nixon did so against the advice of an advisory commission he set up himself, the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, also known as the Shafer Commission in 1972. Then began the highly racist and class-based abuse of civil and human right in our country’s history since Jim Crow and slavery.
The history of Cannabis prohibition is mired in corruption and special interest politics. In an age of transparency, it seems very short-sighted to hand off a plant to big pharma that someone can grow in their backyards and create even more regulations around, and therefor methods of enforcement. People want cannabis for recreational AND medical use and the best approach for that would be to continuing to allow states to be experiments in democracy, but to also pursue a federal approach that decriminalizes cannabis, or at minimum legalize and regulate it at a federal level that considers recreational and medical use. With Hillary’s reputation as purportedly coddling big business, it makes it tough for many Cannabis consumers to trust her motives in suggesting that Cannabis be dropped to a Schedule II and who could be lobbying her and her administration if she is elected into office.
With the history of cannabis regulations already mercilessly cutting out small businesses from the onset, and the longstanding history of big business in other industries wiping out the competition through the use of protectionist regulations, cannabis consumers also need to consider the new businesses and the impact Schedule II would have on them when heading to the polls. Overnight they could become subject to FDA approval processes for products that they claim are medicinal, processes that can take years and millions of dollars, and your favorite mom-and-pop shop or newly created infused product could be gone overnight. If Clinton is elected president, it will be critical for Cannabis consumers to write her administration and local lawmakers about the importance of decriminalization versus rescheduling to maintain the new industry that we helped to create.
Donald Trump has flip flopped on Cannabis through the years with supporting ending the war on drugs in the 1990s, to stating that he did not support Cannabis legalization in the beginning of his campaign to supporting medical Cannabis. It seems that politically he is being very careful so as to not appear too soft on drugs, nor impinge on individual freedom, which are both ends of the broad spectrum of Republican beliefs. There has been talk of him appointing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as Attorney General; however, Christie’s scandals do not make him the best candidate for AG. If Republicans stuck true to their belief in fiscal responsibility, they would be condemning the war on drugs as a failure, and those that are big on personal responsibility and individual liberty should align with the notion that people should be free to do whatever they please so long as they are causing no harm to others. On the other end is the religious right, and they traditionally support draconian drug policies. Playing it safe and not being very clear on where he is on Cannabis legalization definitely seems like a strategy to appease the entire base of the Republican Party.
Arguably the most cannabis friendly candidate in terms in individual freedom, Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, is very much out in the open in his support for Cannabis legalization and was recently CEO of a Cannabis company called Cannabis Sativa, Inc. until he resigned to run for president. Libertarians believe that the market corrects itself and therefor do not support government made regulations, which in their opinion fosters government corruption. We at the Cannabis Consumers Coalition believe industry has shown to not correct itself and instead mislead the consumer to meet bottom lines, otherwise the Erin Brockovich’s of the world would not be exposing unethical businesses poisoning people. It was the same with Cannabis when some businesses were caught using chemical pesticides and lysing about being organic. A company’s marketing budget is on average 5-12% of a company’s sales, so that is potentially millions of dollars being paid to sway consumers in certain directions that may not be good for them, or the economy. Because of this, we believe that we need a balance of consumer representation and reasonable regulations that protect public safety.
Jill Stein, and the Green Party, support ending the drug war and are very vocal about it as it is one of their party platforms. They also support reforming our criminal justice system and implementing restorative justice over the current punitive justice that is not doing anything to help rehabilitate criminals. These are important issues to many cannabis consumers; however, the Green Party advocates socialism and their programs are federal and funded with tax dollars, similar to many countries in Europe with more robust socialist programs that we have here in the United States. Many cannabis consumers are supporters of the Green Party, which saw more converts from people disappointed that Bernie Sanders did not receive the presidential nominee. Many cannabis consumers are also Libertarians, so Jill Stein will be far too left for their taste, and definitely far too tax-and-spend for Republican cannabis consumers.