SAM Partners with Social Justice Organizations to Launch #DecriminalizeDontLegalize Campaign

By July 15, 2020Uncategorized

In partnership with the NAACP Illinois State Conference and other social justice groups and individuals, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), the largest, non-profit, non-partisan marijuana policy organization, co-founded by Congressman Patrick Kennedy and a former Obama Administration advisor, launched a national social justice campaign focused on educating lawmakers and the public on smart marijuana reforms, such as decriminalization.

#DecriminalizeDontLegalize focuses on core justice issues to bring about policy change, rather than marijuana legalization and commercialization, which have overwhelmingly failed to bring about equity. Across the nation, legalization has only led to further wealth gaps and greater substance misuse in marginalized communities, while investors – who rarely come from communities of color – have profited.

The #DecriminalizeDontLegalize campaign highlights, through use of advertisements, social media, videos, opinion pieces, webinars, calls to action, and other resources, how marijuana commercialization has exacerbated issues of racial injustice by creating a new, addiction-for-profit industry, one that has been shown to disproportionately locate its stores in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. These areas historically lack the necessary resources to combat predatory marketing and rising rates of addiction.

“We are proud to stand with SAM for social justice and the idea of #DecriminalizeDontLegalize, and we encourage other social equity organizations to do the same,” said NAACP-IL President Teresa Haley. “Pot legalization is a failed promise. We need real solutions for justice. No tax revenue is worth our community’s future.”

“Legalization is a failure for our community, and it is an affront to have these wealthy investors march into our communities and victimize us,” said another partner, Bishop Jethro C. James, Jr. of Paradise Baptist Church and the Newark/North Jersey Committee of Clergy.

“Time and time again, those heavily invested in the full-scale commercialization of marijuana have co-opted the push for social justice in our country to promote their own financial interests,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of SAM and a former senior drug policy advisor to the Obama Administration. “Disproportionate arrests, as well as steady incarceration rates, persist in legal states, and wealthy investors keep getting richer. Pot legalization has failed to deliver for communities of color. We can go much further by referring people to jobs programs, treatment, and intervention, though since these won’t get investors rich, we know we will face stiff opposition to these common-sense measures.”

“It’s time to be honest with ourselves when it comes to marijuana legalization and social justice,” said Will Jones, Community Outreach Associate for SAM. “The sad reality is that even in 2020, when I walk out of the front door of my house, the first store I get to in any direction is a liquor store or a convenience store plastered with ads for cigarettes, liquor, and the lottery. These same industries have invested billions in legalization and will continue their exploitative practices in communities of color with marijuana. That is not social justice.”

Rather than full-scale commercialization, states should instead focus on removing criminal penalties, referrals to treatment or brief interventions, large-scale, evidence-based prevention, the expungement of criminal records, and non-drug policies like fair housing, education, and healthcare. This would go a long way towards equity, while avoiding the creation of a new, predatory industry and normalizing of drug use.

SAM has either advocated for or helped draft legislation removing criminal penalties for small amounts of marijuana in states such as New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.


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Some fast facts (references found here):

  • People of color are more likely to be arrested for all drugs, including marijuana, than whites — even in states that have “legalized” marijuana
  • Zero states have seen a significant reduction in their prison populations as a result of commercialization
  • In some communities of color in Denver, Colorado, there is one marijuana business for every 47 residents
  • Marijuana storefronts are disproportionately located in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods
  • In states that have “legalized” marijuana, minority youth are showing much larger increases in use of marijuana than their white counterparts
  • When legal sales began in Illinois, a state that purported to “set the standard” on a socially equitable marijuana industry, not a single person of color held a business license in Chicago
  • 80% of marijuana businesses in Colorado and Washington are owned by white investors. Nationally, less than two percent of the industry features minority ownership
  • More than $2.5 billion have been invested into the marijuana industry by addiction-for-profit industries that have historically targeted minority communities

Colton Grace

Author Colton Grace

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