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Collateral Consequences

  • by Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director May 12, 2020

    NORML Activist SpotlightTamara Netzel was a middle school English teacher, an Army officer’s wife, and possibly the most cannabis naive individual you could have met. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2013, and for a few years believed she could continue to teach and live her life as long as she followed all the doctors recommendations and took the medications they prescribed. When those very medications led to liver failure in 2017, triggering chronic pain and other MS symptoms, she was forced to retire from teaching. 

    A friend suggested Tamara try CBD oil for her pain, and it gave her relief like nothing else had. She didn’t have a clue what CBD was, nor did she know it was then illegal to possess. By the time she learned she was breaking the law, cannabis medicine was saving her life. Tamara knew she had to get involved and work to change the law in her state of Virginia. In no time at all she found herself front and center in Virginia NORML’s fight to legalize medical cannabis, testifying before the General Assembly, pleading for legal access not only for herself, but for all Virignians. Years later and after countless hours devoted by herself and other advocates at Virginia NORML, the state’s first medical cannabis dispensaries will finally begin opening dispensary doors to patients this summer. 

    Tamara Netzel testifies before the Virginia General Assembly with Senator Siobhan Dunnavant

    Tamara Netzel testifies before the Virginia General Assembly with Senator Siobhan Dunnavant

    Though for Tamara it was initially about trying to heal herself, she quickly realized that telling stories like her own could help others heal. And not just physical pain, but the mental pain associated with the criminalization of this plant. While some may discredit anecdotal information in efforts to reform marijuana laws, Tamara came to see that statistics and research must be accompanied by human stories to truly help others understand why these laws must be changed.

    As Virginia made significant progress in a short time with medical cannabis, Tamara quickly learned she needed to educate herself about the criminalization of cannabis. It concerned her that even as a registered patient, she could still be arrested. She had never had any experience with the criminal justice system, and she didn’t know anyone who had. People would tell her she had nothing to worry about because she was a middle aged white woman with MS. “I knew I didn’t fit the description of people who are disproportionately targeted for marijuana charges. At that point, I realized I had two choices: I could just be satisfied with my own white privilege, or I could try to use that privilege for good,” said Tamara.

    Once her teaching career had ended, Tamara was forced to answer the question of who she was now in this world. “I remembered I’m who I’ve always been, a person who helps others, and helps others learn,” recalled Tamara.  Her passion for helping and teaching led Tamara to begin curating a powerful new project, Cruel Consequences: Portraits of Misguided Law.

    Tamara Netzel and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring at the Virginia 2020 Legislative Cannabis Summit

    Cruel Consequences was founded with the mission of bringing awareness to the enormous suffering many experience from the collateral damage of marijuana – negative impacts that can last well after court costs and sentences have been fulfilled, and often for a lifetime. Through her advocacy work, Tamara met more and more people who had been arrested for cannabis, and it troubled her how important pieces of those stories were left out of the news coverage the general public sees.

    “Before I came to see cannabis as medicine, that missing that information was never a concern for me,” recalled Tamara, and like many other readers, she would unconsciously fill in the blanks with negative assumptions. She quickly learned that even after someone completed their sentence, they still suffered consequences like being denied employment, college loans, housing, and child custody, when all they wanted was to move on from the experience and live their best lives.

    After visiting the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Tamara was inspired to make Cruel Consequences a portrait exhibit. Marijuana arrest or conviction stories never tell the reader who that person really is, a loving parent, a hardworking son, a heroic veteran, a brave patient battling a horrible disease. If there is ever a photo with such a story, it is typically a mug shot or other unflattering image, taken often when someone  is having their worst day of their life. Why not show these people on a good day? Hopefully those opposed to marijuana law reform could then see the human side of this issue.

    Virginia NORML's 2020 Activist of the Year Tamara Netzel

    Virginia NORML’s 2020 Activist of the Year Tamara Netzel

    In Cruel Consequences’ first year, its portrait exhibits were displayed at dozens of events across the Mid-Atlantic. Notably, the project was the only art exhibit at the first Virginia Legislative Cannabis Summit, hosted by Attorney General, Mark Herring and the Virginia Legislative Cannabis Caucus to educate state lawmakers to learn about cannabis policy, and several portraits were on display throughout the Virginia General Assembly Building during the 2020 legislative session.

    This January, Virginia NORML recognized Tamara as Advocate of the Year, and she says she’s proud to have played a small part in their legislative victories. The project is always looking for more stories, please consider sharing yours. Like Tamara, by sharing your story, you can change lives.

     

  • by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Director August 7, 2019

    For the first time since Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 in 2012, which legalized marijuana for adults 21 and up, NAACP Denver has joined forces with Amanda C. Phillips, state director of Minorities for Medical Marijuana, and other thought leaders to host “The Color of Cannabis.” Organizers of the event hope to educate community leaders and other stakeholders about the lack of diversity and need for social equity within the marijuana industry.

    “The most important thing I want to iterate is the cannabis industry is expanding at leaps and bounds, and more states are coming online across the country,” said Phillips. “This is a pivotal moment in time where the conversation should include communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. There should be opportunities for all of us to participate in this growing industry.”

    Support the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act Today

    Other panelists include: Bia Campbell, Public Affairs Program Administrator, Denver’s Office of Marijuana Policy, Rosalie Flores, Social Equity and Justice Reform Advocate and Cannabis Marketing Specialist, Sarah Woodson, Social Equity Advocate and CEO, Kush and Canvasses. Panelists will explore the collateral consequences associated with a marijuana-related conviction, which can lead to a lifetime of discrimination when it comes to employment and basic services like housing assistance and student loans

    What: The Color of Cannabis

    When: Saturday, August 10, 2019 from 11am-1pm MDT

    Where: New Hope Baptist Church, 3701 Colorado Blvd, Denver, CO 80205

    As the failed policies of marijuana prohibition continue to disproportionately impact communities of color, we must take the necessary steps to address the damage caused by the criminalization of marijuana. That’s why NORML and Minorities for Medical Marijuana proudly support the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act. 

    If passed by Congress, the MORE Act will remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and allow states to set their own policies free from federal interference. The bill would also create a Trust Fund to assist state and local governments in expunging criminal records and setting up regulatory structures for marijuana’s lawful production and distribution.

     The Trust Fund would have three functions:

    1. A fund administrated by a newly created Office of Cannabis Justice to issue grants to communities negatively impacted by the war on drugs for the development of expungement processes, employment programs, reentry guidance, youth resources and more. The Office of Cannabis would be one of the Justice Programs in the Department of Justice. This provision is modeled on the Marijuana Justice Act, by Senator Cory Booker (NJ) and Representative Barbara Lee (CA).
    2. A fund administered by the Small Business Administration to encourage socially and economically disadvantaged people to enter the cannabis industry, similar to legislation introduced by Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (NY).
    3. A fund administered by the Small Business Administration to create equitable licensing programs in states and local governments that benefit communities most impacted by the prohibition.

    It’s time to end the broken and discriminatory policies of marijuana prohibition. Click here to send a message to your representatives in support of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act.

    Marijuana policy should be evidence based. Dispel the myths with the NORML Fact Sheets. Follow NORML on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and become a member today!

     

  • by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Director August 2, 2019

     

    Following a recent trend in Congress to address the collateral consequences associated with a marijuana-related conviction, Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Ocasio-Cortez have introduced the Fair Chance at Housing Act. If passed by Congress, the bill would make it easier for people with criminal records to receive federal housing assistance by prohibiting the use of suspicionless drug and alcohol testing, banning discriminatory “1-strike” and “no-fault” policies and more.

    “As our country continues working toward much-needed reform of our criminal justice system, I am proud to work with Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez to ensure formerly incarcerated individuals and their families have access to safe and affordable housing as they transition back into their community,” said Senator Harris. “By requiring a higher standard of evidence and a more holistic review process, we are taking a significant step toward giving Americans a fair chance to succeed.”

    Currently, marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 controlled substance can prevent honest and hardworking individuals from securing housing assistance and other basic services. As a result, property management companies are employing discriminatory policies that deny responsible marijuana consumers access to subsidized housing and other assistance. 

    “I am proud to join Senator Harris in introducing the Fair Chance at Housing Act. This legislation is one of many steps that need to be taken to repair our broken criminal justice system,” said Representative Ocasio-Cortez. “The denial of basic necessities to formerly incarcerated people does not make our communities safer. Denying housing to those that have been formerly incarcerated increases recidivism. Today we are taking a step to make our communities safer.”

    While this effort falls short of ending marijuana prohibition at the federal level, it does address the very policies that contribute to a lifetime of social and economic challenges for responsible marijuana consumers. It’s time to end the broken and discriminatory policies of marijuana prohibition. Ensuring a fair chance at housing assistance is a step in the right direction.

    Marijuana policy should be evidence based. Dispel the myths with the NORML Fact Sheets. Follow NORML on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and become a member today!

     

  • by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Director July 30, 2019

    Working to reform marijuana laws

    In an attempt to address one of several collateral consequences associated with a marijuana-related charge, Representative Bill Foster (D-IL) has introduced the Second Chance for Students Act. If passed by Congress, the bill will allow students convicted of simple marijuana possession to maintain access to financial aid for six months while they complete an approved drug rehabilitation program.

    “One mistake shouldn’t mean the end of a student’s education,” Congressman Foster said. “For many students, financial aid can mean the difference between staying in school and dropping out. This legislation would ensure that students stay in school while they complete the required rehabilitation program. No student should have their future determined by one bad choice.”

    Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI), Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA), Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA), and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) have signed on as cosponsors.

    “Currently, students who are convicted of possessing marijuana risk losing their federal aid, no matter the quantity,” Congresswoman Moore said. “Losing financial aid can be devastating and often determines whether one can remain in school. This policy harms students of color, who are often targeted for low-level offenses like marijuana possession. It’s why I am thrilled to support this bill because a marijuana conviction shouldn’t jeopardize a students’ future or access to educational opportunity.”

    Regardless of efforts to ease criminal penalties for marijuana possession in more than 60 municipalities around the country, and legalizing and regulating adult-use marijuana in 11 states, marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 controlled substance continues to prevent honest and hardworking individuals from securing gainful employment, housing, access to student loans and other basic services. It’s time to end the broken and discriminatory policies of marijuana prohibition. Passage of the Second Chance for Students Act is a step in the right direction.

    Marijuana policy should be evidence based. Dispel the myths with the NORML Fact Sheets. Follow NORML on FacebookInstagram and Twitter and become a member today!