June 9, 2020

NORML: Open Letter to National Institute on Drug Abuse on Dangers of Prohibition

June 9, 2020

In an open letter to Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), NORML asked her to recognize the detrimental impact that racially-discriminatory marijuana laws and enforcement have had on the public health of communities of color.

In short, prohibition is far more damaging than marijuana itself.

Disproportionate Enforcement of Drug Laws

Inspired by a recent blog post written by Dr. Volkow in which she recognized what advocates and human rights organizations have been saying for a long time: “Whites and Black/African Americans use drugs at similar rates, but it is overwhelmingly the latter group who are singled out for arrest and incarceration.”

Dr. Volkow went on to say that the disproportionate enforcement of anti-drug laws has historically been utilized “as a lever to suppress people of a particular race,” and that this abuse of law enforcement power “has had devastating effects on communities of color.” She concluded by saying that she looked forward to working with advocates, policymakers, and other stakeholders to “eradicate discrimination and promote equality.”

 This was NORML’s response:

“America’s decades-long prohibition of marijuana was founded upon racism and bigotry. … Today, the modern era of marijuana prohibition continues to be disproportionately applied to people of color. … That is why we are asking [you] to demand an end to marijuana prohibition.”

The letter continued: “We believe that taking this public position would be consistent with NIDA’s mission to promote and enhance public health. NORML recognizes that, from a public health perspective, cannabis is not altogether harmless. … But we believe, and based upon your recent public statements we have faith that you do too, that marijuana’s potential public health risks to the individual adult consumer pale in comparison to the known public health burden imposed by its continued criminalization.”

NORML’s letter concluded: “Will marijuana legalization and regulation alone fix over a century of systemic racism in America? No. But nonetheless we understand, all too well, the role that marijuana criminalization has played – and continues to play – in upholding the systemic racism that NIDA has now gone on record to condemn. 

“That is why, in the interest of both enhancing public health and confronting the institutional racism that plagues our nation, we ask you and NIDA to publicly acknowledge that the perpetuation of the criminal enforcement of marijuana prohibition, as well as the stigmatization of those adults who use it responsibly, is far more detrimental to public health than is the behavior these policies are intended to discourage.”


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