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Feds Call Out Religious Discrimination Against Marijuana Consumers

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The U.S. government is again highlighting religious discrimination against people who consume marijuana, but is only shining a spotlight on such anti-cannabis bias that occurs in other countries.

In Guyana, for example, “representatives of the Rastafarian community said that a law criminalizing the possession of 15 grams or more of marijuana infringed on their religious practices,” a new U.S. State Department report says. “A representative of the Rastafari Council said some members of his community faced extra scrutiny from law enforcement officials who believed Rastafaris carried marijuana on their person.”

“The council petitioned the government to legalize the use of small amounts of marijuana for religious purposes, but authorities reportedly did not consider the proposal, saying that reviewing drug legislation was not a state priority at that time.”

In Sierra Leone, “Rastafarians reported this [cannabis] prohibition restricted their ability to use cannabis as a core component of their religious practices.” A community elder told the State Department that “there were 15 incidents of police harassment during the year, often tied to…use of cannabis.”

“The alleged harassment included beatings and confiscation of property found on their persons.”

Also in Sierra Leone, government officials still have not held nine police officers accountable for a 2016 incident in which they damaged a temple as part of a marijuana enforcement operation.

The findings are among several included State Department’s 2017 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, released on Tuesday.

In Barbados, “Rastafarians continued to state their objection to the government’s enforcement of the prohibition on marijuana for any use, which they said made it impossible to fully perform their religious rituals,” the U.S. report says. “Rastafarian activists continued to say that police and immigration officials required Rastafarians to remove head coverings and gave extra scrutiny to Rastafarian women at checkpoints, which they said was a pretext for searching for marijuana.”

In Saint Kitts and Nevis, “Rastafarians continued to face police harassment, particularly for the use of marijuana for religious purposes. Rastafarian representatives continued to state that marijuana, banned by law, was integral to their religious rituals.”

In the Czech Republic, the government suspended a registration application for the Cannabis Church.

“Members of the Rastafarian community said police and immigration officials continued to subject them to scrutiny because of the use of marijuana in the Rastafarian community,” in Dominica. “According to reports by both the police and members of the Rastafarian community, persons of other religious groups were not subject to such scrutiny.”

Anti-cannabis religious discrimination was also reported in Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados and Saint Lucia.

Despite the ongoing hardships across the world for people who use marijuana for spiritual reasons, Rastafarians in several countries noted that discrimination seems to be ebbing, at least somewhat.

In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, for example, despite continued “societal discrimination” against cannabis consumption, some Rastafarians said they “were increasingly accepted in society, and society was becoming more tolerant of their way of life,” citing a “perceived reduction in police harassment as proof of increased societal acceptance.”

In Jamaica, advocates said a 2015 law legalizing spiritual cannabis use “allowed them to practice their religion according to their beliefs.”

“Rastafarians said law enforcement officials on rare occasions still profiled, stopped, and searched Rastafarians for possession of marijuana over the decriminalized limit, but they were no longer concerned about being detained for carrying marijuana to religious ceremonies for use as a sacrament,” the report says.

Another hopeful sign came from South Africa, where Rastafarians cheered a High Court ruling that declared a ban on marijuana use by adults in private homes to be unconstitutional.

Although U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that the new report “is a testament to the United States’s historic role in preserving and advocating for religious freedom around the world,” legal arguments for the use of marijuana in accordance with various religions have repeatedly been rejected by U.S. courts.

The 2016 and 2015 and 2014 versions of the State Department’s religious freedom report also spotlighted anti-marijuana bias in other nations, but not at home.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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Don’t Drive High On Marijuana Even If You’re Being Chased By An Axe Murderer, Federal PSA Says

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The latest push by the federal government to deter marijuana-impaired driving is coming to TV, radio and the web. Its message? Even if you’re being chased by an axe-wielding psychopath, it’s not worth driving high.

The ad, a partnership between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Ad Council, is the first TV spot developed by Vox Creative, the advertising arm of Vox Media. In it, two men run for their lives from a would-be murderer, dodging axe blows while reciting reasons not to drive stoned.

The men ultimately find a vehicle to escape the scene, but the driver pauses before he turns the key in the ignition. “Wait wait wait,” he says. “I can’t drive. I’m high.”

(Don’t worry. The two would-be murder victims swap seats and end up getting away safely while the sober one mans the wheel.)

“The rules around marijuana use can be confusing. But when it comes to marijuana use and driving, all you need to remember is one rule: Driving impaired is illegal everywhere.”

The Ad Council campaign also includes radio and online advertisements. A 30-second version of the video will run on TV, while a longer, 80-second version (embedded above) will reportedly run on Vox.com and the brand’s ad marketplace, Concert.

“Many marijuana users don’t see a problem with driving after use, but research shows marijuana can slow reaction time, impair judgment of distance, and decrease coordination – all skills necessary for the safe operating of a vehicle,” the Ad Council said in a statement accompanying the new video. “Our campaign targets young men aged 18 to 35, many of whom reject the common stereotypes of marijuana users.”

Stereotypes or no, the campaign reminds consumers that driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal in all 50 U.S. states—even if cannabis itself is legal in a growing number of them.

“The rules around marijuana use can be confusing,” its website says. “But when it comes to marijuana use and driving, all you need to remember is one rule: Driving impaired is illegal everywhere.”

Beyond the video and radio ads, the awareness push also includes a number of self-aware signage with messages such as “This is an ad that says you shouldn’t drive high.”

"This is an ad that says you shouldn't drive high" poster

Courtesy of the Ad Council, NHTSA and Vox Creative

As more states have considered legalizing marijuana in recent years, highway safety has become a major focus. Opponents often contend that increased roadway risks themselves are enough to tap the brakes on reform.

In a typical example, the Washington Post’s editorial board in 2014 came out against legalization in Washington, D.C., citing “negative consequences, including increased instances of impaired driving.”

While being impaired no doubt increases drivers’ danger to themselves and others, some critics have complained that the risks of marijuana-impaired driving have been overblown, used as a fear tactic to chill cannabis reform. They argue that research on cannabis and driving is still thin and conflicted, and that the drug’s effect on driving pales in comparison to alcohol and some prescription drugs.

A report commissioned by Congress and published last year cast doubt on the dire warnings of THC-impaired driving. “Although laboratory studies have shown that marijuana consumption can affect a person’s response times and motor performance, studies of the impact of marijuana consumption on a driver’s risk of being involved as a crash have produced conflicting results, with some studies finding little or no increased risk of a crash from marijuana usage,” the Congressional Research Service wrote.

NHTSA, part of the Department of Transportation, has long acknowledged that THC concentration in drivers’ blood levels does not correlate with driver impairment. (The campaign even includes that fact on its website. “Unlike alcohol, there is no correlation between rising THC level and driver impairment,” it says. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe to drive high: “Some research studies have found that peak performance deficits are observed long after peak THC level occurs.”)

The lack of a clear correlation between marijuana and impaired driving has been enough to push some jurisdictions to reconsider per-se THC limits, under which drivers can be charged with a DUI based on the amount of THC in their blood regardless of any evidence of actual impairment.

In Pennsylvania, lawmakers last month introduced a bill that would force police instead to prove impairment. The legislation would exempt medical marijuana patients from the state’s existing DUI law, and police would instead have to demonstrate that a patient’s driving was actually impaired by the drug.

Meanwhile, Congress is taking steps to require states to study the impacts of marijuana-impaired driving. Legislation introduced last month would force states that have legalized cannabis, and only those states, to consider how to educate and discourage people from driving while high. Advocates have questioned that approach, noting that while impaired driving is an important issue, it’s not limited to states with legal cannabis.

Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to take a number of steps related to marijuana-impaired driving, including directing federal agencies to prepare a report on “the establishment of a national clearinghouse for purposes of facilitating research on marijuana-impaired driving.” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), a sponsor of the bill, also wants the report to outline how researchers in states that haven’t legalized marijuana can still access cannabis from dispensaries to study the drug’s effects on driving.

Congress rejected another amendment, however, that would have required NHTSA “carry out a collaborative research effort to study the effect that marijuana has on driving and research ways to detect and reduce incidences of driving under the influences of marijuana.”

Colorado’s Marijuana Legalization Law Decreases Crime In Neighboring States, Study Finds

Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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HBO Teams Up With Marijuana Companies To Sell THC Gummies Promoting New TV Series

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HBO is partnering up with major marijuana businesses to market a line of promotional cannabis edible gummies meant to bring attention to an animated series premiering next week, the entertainment giant announced on Monday.

The 10mg THC gummies are made by the marijuana company Kanha and will be available at select California dispensaries as well as via delivery from Eaze. Each blend was developed to produces effects the network says reflect the personalities of the four main characters from “Close Enough,” which will be streaming on HBO Max starting July 9.

Via HBO.

“It has been so thrilling for my team and I to create a campaign that feels so authentic to Close Enough,” Peter Sherman, senior vice president of program marketing at HBO Max, said in a press release. “When crafting any campaign, our aim is always to create an experience for the audience that feels genuine and exciting, and this partnership with Kanha hits the nail on the head. We’re so excited about this one and we can’t wait to see how fans react.”

What’s interesting about the promotion—beside the fact that a major, international media company is working with the cannabis industry—is that the series doesn’t even seem to have much to do with marijuana. It’s an adult-themed comedic animated show that touches on themes like raising children and navigating careers. The trailer doesn’t even mention cannabis.

So instead, it seems HBO is simply embracing the culture of consuming marijuana while enjoying TV.

“Kanha’s partnership with HBO Max is an exciting opportunity to showcase our delicious, award-winning gummies to a brand new audience,” Cameron Clarke, CEO of the parent company Sunderstorm, said. “We can’t think of a more playful, fun collaboration to announce to our fiercely loyal fans. We’re thrilled to partner with one of entertainment’s biggest media giants to help bring the adult characters in their new show to life through our gummy flavors and profiles.”

Here’s how HBO described each of the flavors that are based on the show’s characters: 

JOSH: Cool dad, husband, and future world-famous video-game designer, Josh likes to chill with his Indica Strawberry Gummies.

EMILY: Emily is logical, organized, a planner — everything her husband Josh is not. She’s a loving mother and a strong working woman who tries to have it all. Busy mom Emily gets it done with her Sativa Pineapple Gummies.

ALEX: Alex is Josh’s neurotic best friend from high school. He lives in the walk-in closet of the apartment he shares with Josh, Emily, Candice, and Bridgette (his ex-wife, but it’s not a big deal). When Alex wants to get lost in thought, he stays cool and carries on with his Hybrid Watermelon Gummies.

BRIDGETTE: Bridgette is a glamorous social media influencer — at least in her mind. ‘Working’ is more of a hobby she squeezes in between partying. Bridgette stays on top of partying and her social game with her 1:1 Pink Lemonade Gummies.

Eaze CEO Ro Choy said that the partnership with HBO Max “is so exciting and it’s a great way to connect with audiences.”

“Eaze is all about high product standards and the best value for customers, and we’re pleased to align with one of the biggest and most respected names in entertainment,” he said.

The promotion begins on Monday and extends through the end of July, or until supplies run out. There are 20 California dispensaries that carry the products, and Eaze will offer them through deliveries in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.

Oregon Psilocybin Measure Has Enough Signatures For November Ballot, Activists Say

Photo courtesy of Flickr/JasonParis.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Just Look At These Hemp Shoes The VA Is Selling To Military Veterans

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is selling pairs of aesthetically questionable hemp toe shoes to military veterans.

In one of the latest, albeit more trivial, examples of the federal government embracing the crop since its legalization under the 2018 Farm Bill, VA’s Veterans Canteen Service (VCS) is offering the hemp shoe at a price they claim is “so good” that their brand partners won’t let them disclose it unless you’re a member.

VCS, established in 1946, provides “articles of merchandise and services at reasonable prices to Veterans enrolled in VA healthcare system, caregivers, and visitors,” according to the agency’s site. “Since its conception, VCS’ mission continues, incorporating a strategic Veteran-centric approach emphasizing the importance of service to Veterans and supporting VA’s overall mission.”

Of course, VA doesn’t produce the shoes; the company Vibram does. Both the men’s- and women’s-style shoe go for about $100 normally, according to the firm’s website.

Selling points for the hemp shoes, according to VCS, are that they are a “casual minimalist” style, breathable, made of a blend of hemp and polyester, “durable and comfortable” and machine washable.

While some might have to weigh those benefits against the trademark FiveFinger aesthetic, it is the case that hemp often represents a more environmentally sustainable alternative to plastic-based materials.

That VA is offering the hemp product to its members is another sign of the federal government normalizing the crop, despite maintaining prohibition against its cannabis cousin marijuana.

That said, while VA is working to put hemp on veterans’ feet, the Department of Defense has made clear that active service members cannot ingest hemp products such as CBD oils and tinctures regardless of their legal status. A little-noticed memo the department issued this year instructed military branches to issue guidance explaining the hemp ban by March.

The memo does make an exception for the use of “durable goods containing hemp” such as rope and clothing, however, so it appears service members would be cleared to individually wrap each of their toes in the Vibram cannabis shoe as long as they don’t try to smoke or eat it.

Meanwhile on the policy side, a pair of lawmakers recently wrote a letter to the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), asking that the agency extend access to a coronavirus relief program to hemp farmers.

Little-Noticed Hemp Memo Clarifies Military’s Ban On Service Members Using CBD

Photo courtesy of VCS.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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