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.”
Marijuana Activists Protest John Boehner’s SXSW Speech
Advocates for social equity in the increasingly legal marijuana economy are protesting keynote speeches by former Republican House Speaker John Boehner and MedMen CEO Adam Bierman at South by Southwest (SXSW).
The Equity First Alliance, a group that promotes racial and social justice in the cannabis industry, said that Boehner and Bierman’s scheduled Friday appearances at the festival are a reflection of an ongoing trend where mostly white men are profiting off a market while people of color continue to disproportionately face criminalization for marijuana offenses.
Boehner has been the subject of ongoing criticism from marijuana advocates, who point out that he failed to act on cannabis reform, and opposed certain criminal justice reform legislation, during his 24 years in Congress. While he never introduced, cosponsored or voted in favor of marijuana bills in that time, he joined one of the largest cannabis firms, Acreage Holdings, as a board member last year.
Bierman has been accused in a lawsuit filed by a former employee of making racist and homophobic remarks. His company, which was valued at $1.6 billion last year, was also a member of a New York-based medical marijuana industry association that advocated against allowing home cultivation in a memo submitted to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (The company told Marijuana Moment that it supports the right to home cultivation, but did not answer questions about its involvement in drafting the document. It was later asked to leave the group over Bierman’s alleged remarks.) Acreage remains a member of the same association.
“Our protest at SXSW sends a bold message in support of cannabis equity, justice, and repair,” the Equity First Alliance’s Felicia Carbajal said in a press release. “We stand together, recognizing that by defending the most marginalized among us, we defend all of us. We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities, and we call on all defenders of human rights to join us.”
Activists held protest signs over a nearby highway and at a hotel where Boehner’s speech—which covers “the likely paths to national legalization and the challenges and opportunities America’s fastest growing industry face today”—will take place on Friday. The signs condemn “big marijuana” and call for social equity policies such as community reinvestment.
— Ministry of Hemp (@MinistryofHemp) March 15, 2019
“It’s clear this market is going to expand,” Boehner told CNBC in an interview ahead of the event. “And as it does, lawmakers in Washington have to look up and realize that the federal government is way out of step. It’s time for the federal government to get out of the way.”
In the press release, Equity First Alliance listed additional reasons they’re protesting as well as policies they support.
“In protest of:
—Those profiting off of cannabis without an intentional plan to repair and make whole individuals, families, and communities that have been devastated by the War on Drugs;
—Those profiting off of cannabis who once participated in prohibition;
—And those who would profit before freeing all cannabis prisoners and vacating all cannabis convictions
And calling for:
—10% of companies’ annual revenue to be reinvested in communities disproportionately harmed by the
War on Drugs;
—A new paradigm of social responsibility in the cannabis industry;
—And public policies that create an equitable, just, and reparative industry.”
“It’s hypocritical for an Austin based company like SXSW, a company imbedded in a city that preaches diversity and inclusion, to neglect the work of committing to create an inclusive space, and instead give a keynote platform to John Boehner,” Chas Moore, executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition, said. “This is disgusting.”
— AcreageHoldings (@AcreageCannabis) March 15, 2019
Marijuana Moment reached out to Acreage for comment, but a representative did not respond by the time of publication.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Marijuana Tourism From China To Amsterdam: Study Sheds Light On Motivations
Marijuana use in China is strictly forbidden. In fact, when Canada legalized cannabis last year, the Chinese government sternly reminded its citizens living in or visiting the country to “please avoid contact or using marijuana.”
Yet, despite their nation’s strict views on marijuana, research shows that significant numbers of Chinese tourists are heading to Amsterdam to take part in its prolific cannabis culture. A new study published in the journal Current Issues in Tourism sheds light on some of the motivations for the cross-continental cannatourism.
The punishment for drug use of any kind in China, including marijuana, is up to 15 days in detention and mandatory rehabilitation, the study’s authors write. But the Chinese government has been known to enforce harsher sentences for other cannabis-related charges. For example, Jaycee Chan, the son of actor Jackie Chan, spent six months in a Beijing jail after police discovered more than 100 grams in his apartment.
Because Chinese citizens are “widely educated to stay away from any kind of drugs,” the study states, researchers were curious to know more about who these tourists heading to the Netherlands for cannabis really were. Between February 2014 and October 2016, they randomly approached Chinese tourists in or exiting Amsterdam coffee shops where marijuana is sold over the counter and invited them to complete a confidential questionnaire. A total of 654 surveys were collected and analyzed.
About 80 percent of respondents said they’d never tried marijuana prior to their trip to Amsterdam.
Participants were divided into three segments based on their responses: cannabis enthusiasts, diversionists/recreationists (people who were seeking pleasure or a diversion from their daily lives) and people who were simply curious about cannabis culture.
Survey responses from the first and third groups “demonstrate that Chinese drug tourists desire to ‘experience all’ and seek authenticity out of their normal daily life and society during the overseas travel,” the study authors wrote.
The largest number of tourists surveyed (almost 44 percent) fell into the category of diversionist/recreationist. In other words, they used cannabis as a way to enjoy their vacation—not unlike tourists from other countries.
“They travelled and consumed cannabis mostly for the sake of experiencing/experimenting with the local cannabis culture in Amsterdam as well as relaxation, pleasure, and to escape from stressful social environments,” the authors write.
Cannabis enthusiasts were the smallest segment of the sample. In terms of demographics, almost half of the survey respondents were women. Overall, a majority of participants reported being college-educated, under 35 years old and not married.
In a recent interview, lead study author Jun Wen discussed why Chinese tourists are especially attracted to the Netherlands.
“You can do a lot of things there that are illegal in China – gambling, paying for sexual services, and buying cannabis for recreational use,” he said. “So Chinese tourists want to go there to find a different way to relax that’s not traditional.”
Congressman Talks Cannabis With ‘Captain America’
Actor Chis Evans of “Captain America” fame met with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) on Friday, and the two discussed marijuana reform, among other issues.
The congressman, who is a long-standing champion of loosening federal cannabis laws and outlined a blueprint to federal legalization last year, said he enjoyed the conversation and that he could “do this all day” in a tweet.
Enjoyed speaking with Captain America, @ChrisEvans, about marijuana reform, voting rights, and bipartisanship in times of division in the nation's capital.
I can do this all day! pic.twitter.com/eNy03QUvSB
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) March 8, 2019
The chat was “part of a project Chris is working on with several members of Congress,” a spokesperson for Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment in an email. “Earl spoke about issues that he cares about, and marijuana reform was one of them.”
“Chris asked for the basics on why it’s important, explaining the reasoning behind scheduling and what pros and cons of legalization were,” he said.
The details of Evans’s “project” are unclear. He’s met with several members of Congress in recent weeks, according to a number of tweets, but he’s declined to get into specifics when pressed. There’s speculation that he’s launching a political media organization, however.
— Zach C. Cohen (@Zachary_Cohen) February 5, 2019
— Rachel S. Cohen (@rachelkaras) February 6, 2019
In response to Blumenauer’s tweet, NORML asked: “How disappointed was the Captain to be unfrozen in modern times and see we are still locking up over 600,000 Americans for marijuana?”
How disappointed was the Captain to be unfrozen in modern times and see we are still locking up over 600,000 Americans for marijuana? #NotMyFuture
— NORML (@NORML) March 8, 2019
Evans is the nephew of former Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA), who lost his bid for re-election in last year’s midterm election.
Blumenauer filed a bill in January, appropriately numbered H.R. 420, which would regulate marijuana like alcohol.
Photo courtesy of Twitter/Rep. Early Blumenauer.