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6 Reasons Marijuana Legalization Is Not Finished

Russ Belville

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Hooray, Oregon has legalized marijuana! Tokers in my home state are thrilled to no longer be treated as criminals. We’re one full month into legalization, and the sky still hasn’t fallen. But that doesn’t mean our job as marijuana legalizers is done. Here are six areas where we are still treated as second-class citizens:

1. Employment Rights

At the turn of the 20th Century, an infamous symbol of workplace discrimination was the “No Irish Need Apply” sign in the window. Today, it’s the “Drug Free Workplace” sign.

According to Quest Diagnostics, the nation’s leading employment drug tester, 6.6 million urine screens were conducted in 2014. Of those, 4.7 percent showed evidence of recent drug use, with more than half of those screens testing positive for marijuana metabolites.

That 4.7 percent rate marks the second consecutive year that drug test positives have risen, after declining every year since 1988. But marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington doesn’t explain the increase.

“We were surprised that marijuana positivity increased at about the same rate in Colorado and Washington as the rest of the United States in 2014,” Dr. Barry Sample, Director of Science and Technology for Quest Diagnostics, said.

If we can smoke cigars and drink whiskey every night and never fear losing our jobs over it, why should our now-legal use of marijuana be any different?

2. Health Care Rights

If anyone should understand the negligible health risks of marijuana use, it should be doctors. Yet the doctor and the hospital still remain a source of discrimination against marijuana consumers in certain medical situations.

For example, pain patients even in legal medical marijuana or recreational marijuana states can be forced by their doctors to choose either marijuana or their opioid painkiller prescription. The tragedy is that numerous studies have shown marijuana to be highly effective in treating pain, especially neuropathic pain. Other studies show that pain patients can get by on less of an opioid dose if supplemented by marijuana. Indeed, states with access to medical marijuana have seen stunning declines in opioid painkiller overdose deaths.

We also face discrimination in the area of organ transplants. While protections have been evolving for medical marijuana patients, recreational consumers can still be forced off an organ transplant list if their marijuana use is detected. Again, a tragedy, based on the latest research that THC may actually help prevent organ transplant rejection.

Doctors don’t withhold critical health care options from moderate drinkers and cigar smokers. Why should legal moderate use of marijuana be any different?

3. Parenting Rights

The case of Shona Banda in Kansas captured national attention this year when her 11-year-old son called out a classroom D.A.R.E. cop on his anti-marijuana propaganda. His explanation of how his mother uses cannabis oil to treat her debilitating Crohn’s disease led to a raid by police and the taking of her son by child protective services.

But even in legal states, a parent’s use of marijuana has been used by family courts to reduce or eliminate that parent’s child custody and visitation rights.

If a parent’s use of drugs or alcohol has rendered them unfit to raise a child, of course the courts need to intervene. But marijuana use alone—absent any evidence it has rendered a parent unfit—should not rise to that level. If we can smoke a cigar and enjoy a glass of wine and still raise our kids, why should legal moderate use of marijuana be any different?

4. Second Amendment Rights

According to the Gun Control Act of 1968, “It shall be unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person… is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance.”

Since that’s federal law, our state medical and recreational marijuana laws means jack squat. Nobody can sell or give us guns or ammunition because we are all unlawful users of the federally controlled substance—marijuana.

If beer drinkers and cigar smokers are not prohibited from firearms purchases, why should legal marijuana consumers’ right to keep and bear arms be infringed? (Funny how you never hear from the NRA on this issue, huh?)

5. Public Assembly Rights

“OK, it’s legal in Oregon… now get back into your homes and draw the curtains!”

Our state, like the other legal and medical states, has strict prohibitions about the public ever seeing the demon reefer. No consumption in public view, no processing in public view, no cultivation in public view.

What is the point of no longer caging people for the crime of marijuana use if under legal marijuana they must cage themselves in their own homes? We’ve gone from a cell to house arrest! It would be like legalizing gay marriage, but telling gay people they can’t kiss or hold hands in public.

If we’ve accepted designated indoor and outdoor smoking and drinking sections, why should marijuana be any different?

6. Freeing Marijuana Prisoners

Secretary of State John Kerry, back in 1971 when he was a returned Vietnam veteran lobbying against the war, famously asked the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

The mistake of our war on marijuana continues to keep thousands of people behind bars for acts that are now legal in many U.S. states. In Oregon, we’ve begun the process of ameliorating the criminal records and sentences of our pot POWs, but it proceeds so cautiously, addressing first only those cases of simple possession, not cultivation or trafficking.

Until we’re all free from cages both correctional and societal, we haven’t finished legalizing marijuana yet. Until we have the same rights as beer drinkers and cigar smokers, we haven’t yet won.

Legalization isn’t a single act, it’s an ongoing process.

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