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Rappers Tell U.S. Supreme Court How The Drug War Fuels Protest Art

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A coalition of rap artists, scholars and music industry representatives submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday in defense of a rapper who was convicted for threatening Pittsburgh police officers in a song.

Their argument, which focused on how rap music has historically served as a vehicle for political commentary and constitutes protected speech, also contained a thoughtful analysis about how the war on drugs has inspired some of the genre’s most memorable work.

In the late 1980s, rap groups like Public Enemy “launched powerful attacks against the establishment, addressing a host of social problems, including racism, inequality, inner-city drug use, and police brutality,” the coalition, which included rappers like Killer Mike, Chance the Rapper and Meek Mill, wrote in the petition.

The clearest example of that “oppositional postures” can be heard in N.W.A’s 1988 song “Fuck tha Police,” they wrote. While the song was designed to be a “response to the increasingly aggressive policing strategies in Los Angeles” at the time, “it became an anthem of resistance in communities across the country as police began waging the War on Drugs.

“Already weakened by joblessness and drug addiction, these communities watched in horror as newly militarized police departments turned weapons of war—helicopters, armored vehicles, and machine guns—on their own citizens. At the same time, people were being locked up in record numbers, leading to an incarceration crisis that eventually turned the United States into the world’s incarceration capital.

“In Los Angeles, police hostility and brutality were commonplace. Black and brown men in particular were routinely harassed, arrested, and beaten by police, often as part of the city’s anti-gang and anti-drug efforts, which were some of the most aggressive in the nation. Long before the treatment of the current opioid crisis as a public health emergency, Daryl Gates, the Los Angeles Police Department chief from 1978 to 1992, openly opined in a U.S. Senate hearing that casual drug users ‘ought to be taken out and shot.'”

The petition also broadly covered the role of rap music in society and argued that racial prejudice has led the genre to be unfairly cast as violent and dangerous, especially given the more accepting treatment that other genres have been granted even though they produce comparable work.

“Consider country music. Like rap, it often depicts sex, drug or alcohol (ab)use, poverty, and certainly violence,” they wrote. “Indeed, the murder ballad, which can be traced back centuries, has always had a prominent place in country music, thanks to artists like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and many others.”

“Yet people tend to have very different responses to country music.”

The case that prompted the petition concerns Jamal Knox, a rapper who goes by Mayhem Mal. Knox was arrested on drug and gun charges in 2012, and afterward produced a song that named the arresting officers and contained lyrics such as “let’s kill these cops ’cause they don’t do us no good.”

He was then charged with making terroristic threats and intimidating witnesses, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld his conviction. The coalition of rappers and academics behind the new amicus brief is hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the case and overturn the conviction on the basis that the song was judged out of context and did not represent a true threat.

“This is a work of poetry,” they wrote of the song. “It is not intended to be taken literally, something that a reasonable listener with even a casual knowledge of rap would understand.”

Watch: Spike Jonze And Jesse Williams Release Powerful Short Film On Marijuana’s History

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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SXSW Wants You To Submit Marijuana Panel Ideas For 2020 Event

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South by Southwest (SXSW) is soliciting ideas for marijuana-related panels to be featured at next year’s festival.

The Austin-based conference—which celebrates music, film, art and innovation at annual events—promoted its “Cannabusiness Track” in a tweet on Friday.

The 2020 marijuana track will involve panels that explore the “technological, cultural, financial, legal and political ecosystems that are defining the cannabis-focused enterprises of both today and tomorrow,” according to a description.

It “presents insights for professionals experienced in this rapidly-evolving industry, as well as introductions for newcomers who are just starting to enter this space.”

Have a concept for a panel that’d be a good fit for the program? There are only a few days left before Friday’s deadline to submit ideas through SXSW’s online tool. The festival will take place March 16-22, 2020.

Marijuana has become a mainstay at the Texas conference, with this year’s SXSW showcasing more than 20 cannabis events—with panels covering everything from female entrepreneurship in the marijuana industry to the state of cannabis politics in the Lone Star state.

Social justice advocates protested a SXSW keynote speech delivered by former Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who declined to act on reform while serving as a congressional leader but has since joined the board of one of the world’s largest cannabis companies.

The activists argued that legalization and restorative justice must go hand-in-hand, and Boehner represented a profit-driven “Big Marijuana” industry that’s antithetical to that goal.

SXSW included an advisory on its new Cannabusiness Track submission page, noting that “cannabis and related laws vary.”

“Programming in this track is designed to inform attendees about this fast-changing industry, and does not promote the use or sale of illegal drugs,” SXSW wrote.

FDA Official To Keynote Major Hemp Industry Conference Next Month

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Tom Hanks Denies Fake Quote Promoting CBD Company

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Actor Tom Hanks wants you to know that he is not, in fact, feeling like a new person after using a CBD product from a California-based cannabis company.

In a tweet posted on Wednesday morning, Hanks denied a quote attributed to him that described advances in the CBD industry as “remarkable” and stating that he was “feeling like a new me” after using a cannabidiol product from a company called Cali Naturals.

“FRAUD! INTERNET FAKE! Just so you know,” the star of films such as Forrest Gump and Cast Away wrote, sharing a photo of the false quote.

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Hanks has been featured in several dubious articles in recent years casting him as a champion of the non-intoxicating cannabis compound.

In another quote with questionable sourcing, Hanks reportedly said in 2017 that he was “fed up of taking various pills” and first tried using CBD to “soothe my anxiety.”

While it’s not clear if the Cali Naturals cited in the new misattributed quote is the similarly named California Naturals CBD, a representative of that company told Marijuana Moment in an email that the development is part of a pattern they’ve experienced and that they did not know the origins of the Hanks hoax.

Someone “has been using our company name to falsely gain customers, maybe to scam them,” Erin Janson said. “We have received many emails from unsuspecting people saying that they purchased CBD from us and were charged for orders they did not want, or signed up for a monthly CBD club after they got a free trial.”

“We are just a small family business trying to make it in the CBD world,” Janson said. “We hope this does not tarnish our name or products.”

In any case, Hanks cleared the air with his all-caps Twitter statement. He might have been flying high as an astronaut in the 1995 film Apollo 13, but he’s certainly not the spokesperson for cannabis that some would have you believe.

Several Grateful Dead Members Call On Fans To Support Marijuana Reform

Photo elements courtesy of Dick Thomas Johnson and Kimzy Nanney.

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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Several Grateful Dead Members Call On Fans To Support Marijuana Reform

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Three founding members of The Grateful Dead and a member of the spinoff group Dead & Company used part of their Independence Day to promote marijuana reform.

Songwriter and guitarist Bob Weir and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, who are now part of Dead & Company, each called on their social media followers to get involved with the Cannabis Voter Project, which “aims to educate Americans about about how voting can impact cannabis policy.” Dead & Company bassist Oteik Burbridge also used his platform to promote the organization.

Fans were encouraged to text “CANNA VOTER” to 40649, which prompts them with questions about federal cannabis reform and automatically generates messages to their congressional representatives. The musicians are also inviting supporters to visit a Cannabis Voter Project booth at one of Dead & Company’s shows in Colorado.

HeadCount, a non-profit organization that partners with musicians to register voters and operates Cannabis Voter Project, has been working with Dead & Company—and the band’s upcoming Colorado shows will put the focus on marijuana reform.

“No better way to celebrate #IndependenceDay than telling elected leaders what you believe in,” Weir wrote. “If you happen to consider yourself a ‘Cannabis Voter,’ text CANNA VOTER to 40649 or visit [Cannabis Voter Project] on #ParticipationRow at our Colorado shows.”

“I’ve smoked a lot of weed. And I vote,” Kreutzmann said. “If you‘re like me you should visit @HeadCountOrg’s @Cannabis_Voter Project booth on Participation Row in Boulder this weekend!”

The partnership makes sense given The Grateful Dead’s close association to the counterculture scene and cannabis across the span of several decades. Hart also owns a marijuana company that sells small joints in shops throughout Northern California.

Musicians are increasingly speaking out about cannabis politics. Last month, for example, Killer Mike discussed why rap artists deserve more credit for advancing marijuana legalization. And Rolling Stones’s Mick Jagger gave the governor of Illinois a shoutout at a Chicago concert on the day he signed a cannabis legalization bill.

Mick Jagger Gives Illinois Governor A Shout Out For Legalizing Marijuana

This piece was updated to note that additional The Grateful Dead and Dead & Company members posted on social media about Cannabis Voter Project.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

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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