AJC Editorial “Treat Weed Like Wine” by James Bell

Should marijuana be legalized?

National polls show 58 percent now support legalizing and 80 percent indicate support for medicinal marijuana.

This shift in attitude toward cannabis comes after twenty states and the District of Columbia enacted medical marijuana laws and Colorado and Washington voted to legalize.

But what about Georgia? Will Georgia follow suit and reform its harsh laws? Georgia activists say yes, but it will take considerable work to educate the legislature and motivate the public to get more involved. One thing is certain, the movement to reform these laws in Georgia is growing. The legislature will address this issue at some point.

The General Assembly did address the medical marijuana issue in the past. In 1980 Georgia was one of the first states to pass a medical marijuana research act. The law allowed the use of marijuana for cancer therapy and glaucoma. But smoking the federal government’s harsh “ditch weed” was intolerable for many and the pharmaceutical form of THC was more palatable. The program is no longer active. Georgia has lost more than 30 years of medical research and we could have been a pioneer in cannabis therapeutics.

A major factor in the increase in public support for cannabis was the documentary “Weed” by the renowned surgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This ground breaking exposé opened the eyes and hearts of millions of viewers to the miracle medicine called cannabis.

On the criminal justice front Georgia has enacted certain law reform measures in an attempt to reduce the number of non-violent offenders in the prison system but has ignored the issue of marijuana laws reform.

Georgia has some of the most Draconian marijuana laws in the nation with penalties up to ten year in prison for more than one ounce. With nearly 30,000 arrests each year the harm done to our citizens by these laws far exceed any real or perceived harm cause by marijuana.

It’s time Georgia treats marijuana more like wine than plutonium. Not only is marijuana prohibition a civil rights issue, it’s also a money issue – tax dollars. The money we spend on arrest, prosecution and incarceration for a commodity that is known to be far safer than alcohol and tobacco, is money that could be redirected to prevent and enforce real crimes against people.

As an activist I am encouraged by the support I am seeing from the public and even legislators are educating themselves about the topic and are seeking alternative policies.

We can kick start the process by having compassion for the seriously ill and allow them access to a relatively safe medicine that has proven to offer relief from suffering. With the legal states engaged in cannabis therapeutics and research, we have just begun to understand what this plant has to offer.

We have drafted legislation and are seeking support. We encourage the citizens to contact their legislator and begin a dialog on this issue.

With marijuana, Georgia should apply its motto – “Wisdom – Justice – Moderation”.

AJC fake pot claim ruled “False”

In March the Atlanta Journal & Constitution (AJC) PolitiFact Georgia took on a statement by Georgia CARE director James Bell. The “Truth-O-Meter” ruled that his statement that “about 100 people” are arrested in Georgia everyday was false. Based on some research, PolitiFact found the statement to be “Mostly False” and that 81.5 arrest each day was a better number.

With that in mind James Bell set out to look at statements made in the AJC concerning marijuana – particularly “fake pot” also know as “Spice” and “K2”.

On a front page story “Synthetic pot still on market” (Aug. 10, 2012 side bar) AJC reported that the designer drug was made by spraying a plant material with chemicals containing THC, an active compound in cannabis.

Bell challenged the AJC on the statement and asked for a retraction and correction of the statement. After a series of email exchanges the AJC did in fact correct the statement on April 4, 2013 –

“A front-page article about synthetic marijuana in the Aug. 10, 2012, edition should have stated that it is a designer drug made by spraying chemicals that mimic the effects of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical compound in marijuana that has psychoactive effects. If you have a question or comment about articles or photos published in the AJC, contact the newsroom at 404-526-7003 or email newstips@ajc.com.”

Bell said if the AJC is going to trivialize the arrest of nearly 30,000 people each year in Georgia, it was fair to challenge them on this false statement.

“The designer drug being called “synthetic pot” is not cannabis and is not a natural substance, False statements associating cannabis with this product piles on more negative connotations on a plant that has been deemed to be one of the safest therapeutically active substances know to man”, Bell said.

Bell is concerned that when the public is given false information that associates cannabis with a synthetic substance that has caused harmful effects on users and negative news stories worldwide, the public will assume the same harmful effects apply to natural cannabis. “This is not true”, Bell said.

Bell ruled the statement to be false on his Truth-O-Meter and commends the AJC for correcting the statement.

“The DEA’s Administrative Law Judge, Francis Young concluded: “In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume. For example, eating 10 raw potatoes can result in a toxic response. By comparison, it is physically impossible to eat enough marijuana to induce death. Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within the supervised routine of medical care.”

Source: US Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Agency, “In the Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling Petition,” [Docket #86-22], (September 6, 1988), p. 57.