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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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SXSW Wants You To Vote On Marijuana And Psychedelics Panels For 2021 Event

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Dozens of marijuana-related panels have been proposed for next year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) event, and several other submissions mention psychedelics. Now the festival needs the public’s help in deciding which ones make the cut.

Through Friday, SXSW is asking people to comment and vote on 48 proposed panels for SXSW 2021 that involve cannabis and four that mention psychedelics. The festival, normally a trendy annual event in Austin, will be held online in March.

Proposals for the panels span the gamut, from issues of social equity in legal cannabis to DIY healthcare and home entheogenic medicines. Most of the proposals have an industry feel—a nod to the festival’s “cannabusiness” track featured in recent years—while other pitches are especially timely: More than one mentions cannabis and COVID-19.

Anyone is free to comment on the proposals through the festival’s PanelPicker tool. To vote, you’ll need to sign up for a free SXSW account.

Among some of the notable names put forward for the 2021 festival include Bay Area recording artist and entrepreneur Berner, co-founder of the marijuana brand Cookies; Cat Packer, director of the Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation; Al Harrington, a former NBA player who founded his own cannabis company; and Toi Hutchison, senior advisor on cannabis control to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D).

There’s a lot of overlap between panel topics, so be sure to look through them all. Try searching with terms like “cannabis” or “psychedelics.” Many carry the festival’s “cannabusiness” tag.

Here’s just a taste of some of the options that could be featured at SXSW 2021:

Celebrities Redefining Cannabis Entrepreneurship — It wouldn’t be SXSW without celebrity. This panel features Gilbert Anthony Miliam Jr., the musical artist better known as Berner, who co-founded and runs the trendsetting cannabis brand Cookies. The panel centers on how entrepreneurs of color in the marijuana space are working to rectify past injustices of the drug war and what the future intersection of entertainment and cannabis might look like.

The Future of Cannabis Is Appellation Designation — Interested in craft cannabis? Representatives from Big Rock Partners, Sonoma Hills Farm, Henry’s Original and Moonmade Farms discuss how a new California “appellation of origin” law could impact growers and help inform consumers about where their cannabis comes from.

The Stoners and the Suits: Building Bridges — One of the earliest entrepreneurs to enter legal cannabis, Andrew DeAngelo, president of DeAngelo Brothers Productions LLC, shares how he’s been “both a ‘stoner’ and a ‘suit'” during his 35 years in the marijuana business and offers ideas about how to build trust between groups that often find themselves at odds.

DIY Healthcare: From Seed to Self Reliance — For those who like to get their hands dirty, Amanda Reiman, CEO and founder of Personal Plants, explains home production and processing of plant-based medicine, including cannabis and psychedelics.

Can We Ensure Equity In Cannabis Policy? #YesWeCan — This solo panel by Cat Packer, director of the Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation, focuses on how we can “build a more equitable society for those previously and currently affected by cannabis policy,” as well as other areas of society affected by cannabis policy. Packer, who previously worked for the advocacy group the Drug Policy Alliance, shares her perspective as a self-described “agitator” within the space and acknowledges there’s still work to be done.

The Crop They Won’t Share–Disrupting Legalization — “Legal Cannabis Doesn’t Care About Black People,” begins the description of this panel, which notes that 96 percent of cannabis business licenses in the U.S. have gone to white owners. Featuring speakers such as Toi Hutchison, senior advisor on cannabis control to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), and Melek Dexter, founder and CEO of Lets ReUP and Do Better Project, this is yet another worthy look at the need for social justice in the cannabis industry.

The Urgency for An Equitable Cannabis Industry — Another proposed panel centering on the need for social equity in cannabis, this one features a more industry-side perspective. It includes Tahir Johnson, business development and diversity and inclusion manager at the National Cannabis Industry Association, as well as Curaleaf VP of Social Responsibility Khadija Tribble and representatives from Lantern and Fyllo.

Psychedelics: Rewiring Mental Health Care — Professors from Johns Hopkins University and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine are among the speakers on this panel looking into the therapeutic uses of psilocybin, the main psychoactive ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms. Panelists will explain psilocybin’s potential benefits to treat psychiatric and behavioral disorders, discuss common misconceptions and examine existing problems in mental health care.

Reporting on the Corporatization of Psychedelics — With more and more interest in the mental health applications of psychedelics, yet another illicit drug market could soon go legal. In this panel, the CEO and managing editor of DoubleBlind Mag, which covers psychedelics, sit down to discuss how cannabis paved the way for psychedelics and how for-profit interests could upset efforts at equity.

It’s not yet clear how many of the proposals will be selected. In 2019, the festival boasted more than 20 cannabis events, including discussions on entrepreneurship by women and the prospect of marijuana reform in Texas. Sixty-two cannabis proposals were submitted for consideration in that festival.

SXSX’s 2019 cannabis track also caused some controversy when former House Speaker John Boehner (R), who joined the board of a major cannabis firm after leaving office, delivered a keynote address, which drew protests from social justice advocates who argued that corporate marijuana firms had overlooked equity issues.

SXSW 2020 was scheduled to feature 24 different cannabis panels, but the festival was canceled due to the pandemic.

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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan

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Feds Cite Marijuana Comments By Seth Rogen, Joe Rogan And Other Celebs In COVID PSA Database

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The Trump administration appears to have considered celebrities’ views on marijuana legalization and drug use to be relevant factors when selecting spokespeople to participate in a public education campaign on coronavirus prevention, internal documents show.

From Seth Rogen to Kim Kardashian to Joe Rogan, drug policy views or experiences were apparently considered in the vetting process.

The House Oversight Committee late last month released a “PSA Celebrity Tracker” database that was maintained by a campaign headed by Trump aide Michael Caputo. It listed nearly 300 celebrities that contractors vetted as potential spokespersons for a “Helping the President will Help the Country” ad campaign to promote public safety amid the pandemic.

That list—which was obtained as part of a congressional committee inquiry into COVID-related spending by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—contains brief notes on each prospective participant that flag political affiliations and policy positions on a number of “liberal” issues, including cannabis reform and same-sex marriage. It also notes prior convictions for drug and other offenses.

Marijuana specifically came up in the notes section for four would-be celebrity spokespersons: Seth Rogen, Seth McFarlane, Kelly Clarkson and Armie Hammer. Others were flagged more broadly for drug reform stances or past drug crimes.

For comedian and actor Rogen, one of the most outspoken celebrity advocates for cannabis policy reform and a marijuana culture icon, the note states: “Describes himself as ‘left wing’; has been outspoken about marijuana legalization.” Rogen already offered some coronavirus advice to young people in August, urging against public gatherings and telling followers to instead “hang out alone and smoke weed and watch movies and TV shows.”

McFarlane, the creator of the TV show Family Guy, “supports the legalization of cannabis,” the spreadsheet says.

Clarkson, a singer, has “voiced her liberal opinions including legalizing marijuana” and NFL protests against police brutality.

And a 2011 cannabis possession conviction for the actor Hammer evidently came up during the PSA vetting.

Kim Kardashian, Kelsey Grammer, Tito Ortiz, Andrew Zimmern and Jason Bateman each were noted as having discussed using drugs or struggling with addiction.

Podcaster Joe Rogan, meanwhile, was flagged for his more wide-ranging “pro-drug legalization views.”

While it does not necessarily seem that these notes on each celebrity’s backgrounds indicated they would be disqualified from participating in the COVID-focused PSA that never ultimately materialized, it indicates that political ideologies such as support for marijuana legalization were areas of interest to the administration, or at least to Caputo, who serves as HHS’s spokesman.

Democratic lawmakers took exception to the overall plan, which was first reported by Politico.

“It is critical that HHS provide accurate, nonpolitical public health information to the American people that encourages mask wearing, social distancing, and other science-backed public health recommendations,” the chairs of the Oversight Committee, Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis and Oversight’s Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee said in a joint press release.

“Yet, the documents we have obtained indicate that HHS political appointees sought to use taxpayer dollars to advance a partisan political agenda and direct taxpayer money to their friends and allies,” they said.

None of the celebrities with drug-related notes on the tracker list seem to have agreed to participate. Of the select few public figures who did agree, they all later declined the opportunity.

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Photo courtesy of YouTube/Jimmy Kimmel Live.

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Schools And NCAA Could Ban Marijuana Sponsorships Under Bill To Let Student Athletes Monetize Their Success

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A new bipartisan congressional bill aimed at helping student athletes monetize their success contains a provision that would let colleges and intercollegiate organizations block them from making sponsorship deals with marijuana businesses.

While the legislation would address a longstanding controversy over inequitable payment to college athletes, drug policy reform advocates are disappointed to see the legislation perpetuate anti-cannabis policies despite the growing, state-level legalization movement.

The Student Athlete Level Playing Field Act, introduced by Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) and seven other original cosponsors, would make it so colleges and associations like the NCAA could not prohibit students from being involved in intercollegiate athletics if they’ve entered into sponsorship agreements.

However, it stipulates that the exception would not apply if the sponsorship is from a “seller or dispensary of a controlled substance, including marijuana.”

Student drug policy reform advocates took exception to the cannabis provision.

“Student-athletes are professionals and deserve the right to earn funding from any legal service they deem fit. As young professionals, they can determine for themselves if an endorsement is going to hurt or help their career,” Luis Montoya, co-interim executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “These restrictions are not based in any science, and in particular ignore community re-investment efforts by the cannabis industry. Banning student-athletes from accepting endorsements from an industry that wants to reinvest in local communities only limits the opportunities afforded to these young professionals.”

The bill, filed last month, would also allow actions against students who get endorsement deals with alcohol, tobacco, adult entertainment or gambling companies.

Meanwhile, for lead bill sponsor Gonzalez, this particular provision seems to depart from his overall record on cannabis reform.

The congressman voted in favor of spending bill riders to protect all state, territory and tribal marijuana programs from federal intervention in 2019 and this year.

In other education-related drug policy developments, a separate House bill filed last year would repeal a federal law punishing college students who are convicted of drug offenses by stripping them of their financial aid. That reform cleared the Education & Labor Committee as part of a broader college affordability bill, but it has not advanced further.

In any case, Gonzalez touted his new legislation, arguing in a press release that it “delivers meaningful reforms and will make a difference in the lives of student athletes of all levels of competition across the country.”

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), an original cosponsor, said the measure “is a civil rights issue.”

“For far too long college athletes across the country—many of whom are people of color—have been denied the basic right to control their name, image and likeness,” he said. “What we wanted to do from the outset was come to a bipartisan consensus that puts forth a national framework that gives college athletes the same rights every other American in the country is already afforded.”

But while the congressman acknowledged racially disparate policies in college sports, it’s also the case that the war on drugs has disproportionately impacted African Americans and Latinos. Reform advocates who support cannabis legalization have emphasized the need to create opportunities for people from communities harmed by prohibition enforcement to participate in the newly legal marijuana market.

And so while the athletics bill seeks to make a seemingly benign exemption for allowing marijuana-related sponsorships, the policy also makes it so students of color who’ve been most negatively affected by these college policies are unable to benefit from endorsement deals with an industry that advocates are hoping can play a proactive role in fostering racial equity.

Earlier this year, Major League Baseball clarified that players can consume cannabis without being disciplined, but moved to ban them from entering sponsorship deals with marijuana companies.

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