Friday, April 16, 2021

Jocelyn Elders Co-Authors Oped Slamming AMA's Position on Marijuana

Elders depicted at the 2016 Oakland Museum "Altered State" exhibit

Former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders has co-authored an oped on  blasting the AMA's policy on marijuana as racist and out of step with the times. It states:

The AMA actively supports cannabis prohibition, a cornerstone of the drug war, even as it hypocritically condemns systemic racism for creating inequity and limiting access to health care among communities of color. The organization fails to appreciate or chooses to ignore the fact that the uneven application of laws on cannabis prohibition contributes to poverty, which is one of the largest obstacles to health care access in communities of color. 

Cannabis is demonstrably safer for the vast majority of adults than alcohol, but the AMA doesn't call for a return to alcohol prohibition. Cannabis is far less harmful to adults than tobacco, but the AMA advocates tighter regulation rather than the prohibition of tobacco products. While the medical community offers an evidence-based, nuanced assessment of the health effects of cannabis, the AMA hyperbolically asserts that "without question, the public health risks (of legalization) are immense." 

Cannabis use is not the "immense" public health threat that the AMA claims, but its prohibition is a powerful weapon of racially biased policing. In 2019, US law enforcement made over 500,000 arrests for simple cannabis possession alone. An American Civil Liberties Union report from 2018 found that Black people in America are nearly four times more likely than Whites to be arrested for cannabis possession, despite similar usage rates between the two groups.

Dr. William Woodward
Interestingly, on the anniversary of Jack Herer's death, the oped mentions an historical incident involving the AMA that I learned about in Herer's book The Emperor Wears No Clothes: Hemp and the Marijuana Conspiracy: 

There have been a few bright spots in the AMA's long history of racism and misguided support for the drug war. In 1937, the AMA's Legal Counsel Dr. William Woodward testified before Congress in strong and unequivocal opposition to the prohibitionist Marihuana Tax Act. He eerily predicted our current crisis of mass incarceration, asserting that the government "would meet with the same difficulty that it met in prosecuting under the National (Alcohol) Prohibition Act; inadequacy of courts ... (and) the inadequacy of jails."

Woodward was an exceptional physician and lawyer for his time. In a career that spanned six decades, he served as a public health officer and president of the American Public Health Association. He also taught medicine and law at six prestigious universities, including Howard -- a historically Black medical school whose graduates were banned from the AMA of Jim Crow America. The association probably unknowingly accepted its first Black physicians in 1888 when the AMA set rules to offer membership to all state medical society members, and a few in Northern states were Black. Some Southern states, in contrast, didn't stop discriminating against Black physicians until at least the 1950s.

Elders, who was appointed as Surgeon General by Bill Clinton, was driven out of office due to her support for sex education and marijuana legalization, an incident later dramatized on West Wing. In a 2017 interview, Elders said, "Because of marijuana, we have become the world's biggest jailer. We have criminalized a generation of young people for nothing."

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