Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dispensaries, Discrepancies, and Discrimination

Marijuana is making its rounds around the web. And it seems like there is more and more movement to try and make it legal and stop the harassment of police at dispensaries.

Here are a few articles worth noting:

SF Weekly's Blog posted "Cops Claim Pot Clubs are Crime Magnets, Won't Provide Evidence To Back It Up" today (Wednesday, May 12, 2010).

The gist of the article is in the headlines. SFPD claims that the medical marijuana dispensaries on Ocean Avenue bring crime to the neighborhood. As someone deeply familiar with Ocean Avenue and the OMI, really?

My dear friend is a community organizer of the OMI. She sits on the Ocean Avenue Revitalization Collaborative, and she is actively involved in creating the OMI's cultural legacy. She has been doing this work since she was born, and she was born in the OMI over 50 years ago. I've worked with her for years, many of which have been supporting her work in the OMI. Never have I heard this issue mentioned. And trust me, I hear ALL the gossip of Ocean Avenue. Currently, the most pressing issue is whether or not Ocean Avenue wants to become a Community Benefit District.

What concerns me about this article is the start of an unsubstantiated assault on medical marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco by SFPD, specifically by Police Chief Gascon. I have lived in San Francisco for over 12 years doing community work all of those years. One thing I have learned in that time is San Francisco is overwhelmingly pro-marijuana.

This assault on legal establishments makes me cringe. It seems only a short step until more local laws are infringed upon.

Need a reminder? San Francisco is, on paper, a Sanctuary City. However, defining what made San Francisco a Sanctuary City, it used to mean city agencies not cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is changing. The new ICE Secure Communities initiative is a prime example. Secure Communities mandates that any time someone is booked by local or state law enforcement their fingerprints be compared to biometrics in the US Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Securities databases. It ties the hands of San Francisco to enforce its own Sanctuary City Policy. (Want more information? Click here and here.)

Then, I came across "Why Ending Marijuana Prohibition Is a Racial Justice Issue" an article in Race in America, a part of

Here are a couple of key quotes:
Of the 1.8 million drug arrests made last year, 750,000 were for nothing more than possession of a small amount of marijuana. That represents more than 40% of all drug arrests. The best available national evidence indicates that roughly the same proportion of blacks and whites use marijuana — but that black people are roughly three times more likely to be arrested for possessing marijuana. [...]
What's difficult to understand is how and why the number of people arrested annually for marijuana possession has roughly doubled during the past 20 years — even as support for ending marijuana prohibition has also doubled during the same period of time. [...]
In California, 61,400 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2008, a 300% increase since 1990. In California, black people made up less than 7% of the state population but 22% of people arrested for all marijuana offenses and 33% of all marijuana felony arrests in 2008. More black people are arrested in California for marijuana felonies than whites, although there are six times more whites in the state population — and huge numbers of white people involved in growing and selling marijuana.
This is alarming and makes even a stronger case for why SFPD and Police Chief Gascon should stop assaulting legal establishments, especially establishments in historically black and brown neighborhoods. Ocean View was one of the few places after World War II where black/African American families could afford to purchase a home. During the 1960s, more black/African American families moved to the neighborhood. There is cultural and historical significance to Ocean View. Picking on the dispensaries on Ocean Avenue is an assault on black and brown people.

We do need to solve the problems of crime and violence. Discriminating against people of color and legal dispensaries doesn't do this. Instead, it reinforces the tension between SFPD and communities of color, and it continues the cycle of distrust.

Maybe, instead, we could learn something from the dispensaries. I know I have never seen a more diverse group of people communing between four walls. Never. It is amazing to behold. They may be more of the solution than the problem than we even know.

Here's to hoping and toking.