Marijuana policy speakers discuss racial bias, legalization

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COLUMBIA - National marijuana policy speakers visit Missouri Thursday following cannabis legalization in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., last week.

Speakers include Drug Policy Alliance's president of the board, Ira Glasser and Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) Neill Franklin.

Show-Me Cannabis Chairman Dan Viets said he has spent decades attending events hosted by Glasser, who long led the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

"The Drug Policy Alliance is probably the most effective and important and well-funded drug reform organization in America,"  Viets said. "Ira has dedicated a great deal of his time to try to repeal marijuana prohibition in particular, and that's why he's here in Missouri."

But Viets said these events are not only about ending prohibition of marijuana, but also to spark change in societal behaviors.

"Here in Missouri, if you are a black person, you're two-and-a-half times more likely to get arrested for marijuana than a white person is," Viets said. "That's despite the fact that blacks and whites use marijuana at almost exactly the same rate."

Tyler Elder, vice president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), said the race issue associated with marijuana is a long-standing problem across the country.

"The racial bias has deep roots back to the civil liberties era," Elder said. "I think that it is a new form of social control. It is a way to disenfranchise minorities without coming straight out and doing it, because they are a minority."

The Columbia City Council voted against the decriminalization of marijuana in October, and councilwoman Ginny Chadwick said it is because the change in jurisdiction should occur at the state level. 

Franklin will speak at 4:30 p.m. at the MU Agriculture Building, and Glasser will speak at 7 p.m. at MU's Tate Hall. 

A reception at Bleu Restaurant is open to both students and the public in between each event. The cost is $10 for students and $25 for non-students.

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