NORML Demands NIDA Acknowledge Marijuana Prohibition’s Burden on Public Health

Washington, DC: NORML leadership on Monday sent an open letter to Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), asking her to recognize the detrimental impact that racially-discriminatory marijuana law enforcement practices have had on the public health of communities of color.

NORML’s letter was written in response to a recent blog post authored by Director Volkow in which she recognizes, “Whites and Black/African Americans use drugs at similar rates, but it is overwhelmingly the latter group who are singled out for arrest and incarceration.” The Director further acknowledges that the disproportionate enforcement of anti-drug laws has historically been utilized “as a lever to suppress people of a particular race,” and that this abuse of law enforcement power “has had devastating effects on communities of color.” She concludes, “I look forward to working with … advocates, policymakers, and other stakeholders … to eradicate discrimination and promote equality.”

NORML responded: “America’s decades-long prohibition of marijuana was founded upon racism and bigotry. … Today, the modern era of marijuana prohibition continues to be disproportionately applied to people of color. … That is why we are asking [you] to demand an end to marijuana prohibition.”

The letter continued: “We believe that taking this public position would be consistent with NIDA’s mission to promote and enhance public health. NORML recognizes that, from a public health perspective, cannabis is not altogether harmless. … But we believe, and based upon your recent public statements we have faith that you do too, that marijuana’s potential public health risks to the individual adult consumer pale in comparison to the known public health burden imposed by its continued criminalization.”

It concluded: “Will marijuana legalization and regulation alone fix over a century of systemic racism in America? No. But nonetheless we understand, all too well, the role that marijuana criminalization has played – and continues to play – in upholding the systemic racism that NIDA has now gone on record to condemn. That is why, in the interest of both enhancing public health and confronting the institutional racism that plagues our nation, we ask you and NIDA to publicly acknowledge that the perpetuation of the criminal enforcement of marijuana prohibition, as well as the stigmatization of those adults who use it responsibly, is far more detrimental to public health than is the behavior these policies are intended to discourage.”

The full text of NORML’s letter is available online. Those wishing to send their own comments to NIDA can do so via NORML’s action alert.