Cannabis prohibition is ‘a crime against humanity’

Published on October 14, 2022 by David Wylie

Photo: Contributed
DEA agents make an arrest in the U.S.

Fifty years after researchers boldly stated cannabis prohibition is “a crime against humanity,” another report has again confirmed that conclusion.

The commentary by academics from universities in Texas and Houston examined federal cannabis prohibition and enforcement through a public health lens.

“Our results state, resoundingly, that the most dangerous thing about cannabis — is being caught with cannabis,” say the authors in the abstract.

It’s a poignant conclusion, with U.S. President Joe Biden announcing earlier this month blanket pardons for all those convicted federally of cannabis possession. While dozens of states have a patchwork approach to recreational and medical cannabis, it remains illegal at the federal level in the U.S.

Strict laws against pot in that country have resulted in about 820,000 arrests per year.

Five decades ago, in 1972, Hyman M. Greenstein and Paul E. DiBianco put forward their plain disdain for America’s war on weed:

“American enforcement of laws prohibiting the use of marijuana is an unjustifiable and shocking practice which is ruining lives, interrupting careers and destroying relationships. Leaving an embittered citizenry in their wake, these laws are promoting social discord in the present as well as assuring similar strife for the future. They are an absurdity that must not be permitted to continue to ravage our nation and our sense of justice. It is therefore the contention of the authors that the use of the substance marijuana should be legalized immediately in order to stop the mindless alienation and criminalization of marijuana users, particularly the young, which our society is perpetrating by the continued enforcement of criminal sanctions against marijuana.”

Their lengthy commentary was published in the Notre Dame Law Review was called “Marijuana Laws – A Crime Against Humanity.”

Echoing the past sentiment, a new report was released by Dale S. Mantey (University of Texas School of Public Health), LaTrice Montgomery (University of Cincinnati – College of Medicine), and Steven H. Kelder (University of Texas at Houston – Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics, and Environment Sciences). It’s called “Cannabis Prohibition – A Crime against Humanity.”

Photo: Contributed
Agents remove cannabis from an apartment.

The authors use the definition of a crime against humanity as “politically organized persecution” and “a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.” They say cannabis prohibition is enforced in two ways that meet the criteria: imprisonment and enslavement.

“We consider 820,000 cannabis arrests (with a potential to reach 47 million arrests) per year to be ‘widespread’ and we interpret the 4-to-1 risk ratio of enforcing cannabis prohibition against black adults (relative to white adults) to be a ‘systematic attack’ against at least one identifiable group,” they say.

“Now, consider that under cannabis prohibition, the most dangerous thing about cannabis is being caught with cannabis, according to the social-epidemiological analysis described in this commentary. There is a legitimate case to be argued that cannabis prohibition is a crime against humanity – and has been exceedingly violent towards people of colour.”

The research highlights its conclusions with specific examples, including the case of Patricia Spottedcrow.

In 2010, a judge sentenced Spottedcrow to 12 years in prison for selling $31 worth of cannabis to an undercover police officer in Oklahoma. It was her first criminal offence.

“Further, cannabis prohibition enforcement also imposed thousands of dollars in fines and fees upon Ms. Spottedcrow while simultaneously inhibiting her from finding gainful employment and disqualified her from receiving several forms of federal financial assistance (e.g., housing; education),” says the paper.

The research has not yet been peer reviewed.

Canada is not innocent.

During the 20 years proceeding legalization in Canada, from 1998-2017 there were an average of about 50,000 arrests for holding cannabis each year. Yet only about 630 applications for pot pardons have been accepted in Canada, the Globe and Mail pointed out this week in an editorial.