Politics and Social Justice Archive

NYC Activists Call for a Safer St. Patrick’s Day

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Over the past several years, SAFER has used the alcohol-fueled mayhem surrounding St. Patrick’s Day to highlight the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol. Click HERE and HERE to see news stories about them.

This year, a group of activists in New York City are carrying the torch by calling on the city to allow partygoers to make the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol that day, if that is what they prefer.

Their press release is after the jump, or read it on-line at the StoptheDrugWar.org.



WHEN: St. Patrick’s Day, Thursday, March 17th, 2011 at high noon
WHERE: City Hall Park - Broadway between Park Place and Barclay (east side)
WHO: Empire State NORML and numerous speakers (see list below):
WHAT: Rally and Press Conference

On March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day) at high noon, Empire State NORML (the New York State chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)) will remind New Yorkers that marijuana is a safer alternative to alcohol for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

“While scores of New Yorkers are out getting hammered, we want to remind the Big Apple that there is a safer, greener and cleaner choice for adults: marijuana,” said Doug Greene, Legislative Director of Empire State NORML, who organized the event for the first time in 2010.

“In an era of budget cuts and worsening public health, why is the Bloomberg administration driving New Yorkers to drink while spending tens of millions of dollars per year arresting peaceful, healthy cannabis consumers? New York City made over 50,000 marijuana possession arrests last year alone, and over 500,000 since 1996,” said Greene.

Marijuana arrests are 15% of all arrests in New York City. The NYPD is now jailing people for marijuana possession at the rate of nearly 1,000 arrests a week. With 2.7% of the U.S. population, New York City represents 6% of nationwide marijuana arrests.

Greene was first inspired to organize “Marijuana is SAFER” events after reading the book of the same name (subtitled “So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?), co-authored by Paul Armentano, the Deputy Director of NORML, by Mason Tvert, Executive Director of SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation) and by Steve Fox, Director of State Campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Speakers include:

· Dr. Julie Holland, a nationally recognized authority on drugs and drug safety, who has appeared multiple times on Today. She is the author of “Weekends at Bellevue” (which may be coming to TV on Fox this fall ) and editor of “The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis” and “Ecstasy: The Complete Guide.”

· Dr. Harry Levine, Professor of Sociology at CUNY Queens College, the co–author of the NYCLU report “Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy in New York City, 1997-2007.” He is also the co–author of a new report on the costs of New York City’s marijuana arrests, which will be released on March 15 by the Drug Policy Alliance.

· Tony Newman, Director of Media Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the nation’s leading organization calling for alternatives to the drug war and policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights.

· Daniel Jabbour, New York State Coordinator for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), an international grassroots network of students who are concerned about the impact drug abuse has on our communities, but who also know that the War on Drugs is failing our generation and our society.

· Chris Goldstein, Board Member, NORML-NJ/Coalition for Medical Marijuana-NJ (CMM-NJ). Chris is a radio broadcaster and marijuana advocate. Chris is considered an expert on the topic of marijuana and can comment on New Jersey and national issues regarding cannabis.


Broadway between Park Place and Barclay (east side) City Hall Park

New York, NY 10007

United States

Read the original article at SAFERChoice.org.
marijuana Mason Tvert is co-author of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People To Drink?.

Women Speak Out for Marijuana Legalization in California, Nationwide

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Women throughout California and across the nation held news conferences Tuesday to speak out in support of Proposition 19, the California ballot measure that would regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol.

In California, they stressed the importance of getting out to vote for Prop. 19, and how its passage would enhance the safety of their families and communities. Elsewhere, women highlighted the example that could be set in the Golden State and announced efforts to begin organizing women to work toward similar reform in their areas.

The nationwide day of action was coordinated by the Women’s Marijuana Movement (WMM), which worked alongside local women’s organizations and activists nationwide including Moms for Marijuana, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and members of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). In California, women gathered in Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Diego, among other cities. Events were also held throughout Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Texas.

“For too long, women’s voices have not been heard during the debate over marijuana policy,” said WMM Project Coordinator Eva Enns. “But women will make the difference in this debate — and this election — so it is time for us to take the lead.”

That could very well end up being the case. As the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this year:

The poll [on Prop. 19] also points to a demographic group that is likely to play a key role — women, particularly those who are married. Men favor legalization, but women are split.

With the Prop. 19 race coming down to the wire, it is critical that the campaign pick up support wherever it can. It has already received endorsements ranging from law enforcement officials to organized labor groups, so targeting women directly makes sense at this critical point. Thus it comes as no surprise that the women’s day of action coincided with the first week of early voting in California.

For less obvious reasons, however, the WMM timed the actions to coincide with National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“Unlike marijuana, alcohol is frequently associated with acts of violence against women, such as domestic abuse, date rape, and sexual assault,” Enns said. “We are simply fed up with laws that prohibit adults from using marijuana and drive them to drink. We sincerely believe that we could reduce the amount of violence taking place in our households and around our communities by accepting marijuana as a safer alternative to alcohol.”

Women in California rammed this message home by using the day of action to target the offices of key law enforcement officials who are opposing Proposition 19, including Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, and San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Women called on these officials to explain why they would prefer to keep marijuana in a black market and ensure alcohol is the only legal intoxicant available.

“We need to advocate for sensible regulations that actually enhance public safety rather than undermine it,” Enns said. “We want our young people to be carded before they can purchase marijuana. We want marijuana removed from the criminal market so teens are not exposed to harder drugs if they happen to seek marijuana. And we want our sons and daughters to grow up in a world where they will not be punished if they make the sensible choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol.”

This article appeared originally on The Huffington Post.

Mason Tvert is executive director of Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) and coauthor of Marijuana is Safer: So Why are we Driving People to Drink?.

Big Alcohol’s Anti-Marijuana Spokesman on the Hill

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) took to the airwaves Tuesday to decry increases in marijuana use amongst the American public and call for a ramping up of marijuana enforcement nationwide.

At first glance, some might think Smith is genuinely concerned about marijuana use and its impact on public safety. Yet it’s hard to take him at his word when he is in fact receiving money from the alcohol industry, which produces, distributes and promotes a far more harmful substance.

If Smith is so concerned about public safety he should be thrilled that more Americans are making the rational, safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol when they relax and recreate. Unlike marijuana, alcohol use contributes to domestic violence, sexual assaults, and other serious problems. If promoting public safety is his motive, it’s time he explained his reason for preferring adults use alcohol — a substance whose use alone kills more than 30,000 Americans per year — instead of marijuana, which has never resulted in a single death in history.

Another explanation for Smith’s anti-marijuana action could be his ties to the booze industry, which appears to be working to keep marijuana illegal and protect its status as the nation’s sole legal intoxicant. Late last week it was discovered that the alcohol industry is financing a campaign to defeat a marijuana legalization initiative in California, resulting in headlines nationwide and sparking outrage and action amongst supporters of marijuana policy reform.

According to OpenSecrets.org, Smith has received at least $20,000 from the beer, wine, and liquor industry this campaign cycle, including a $10,000 donation from the National Beer Wholesalers Association, a $5,000 contribution from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, and $5,000 from Constellation Brands Premium Wine and Spirits Company.

With marijuana legalization becoming increasingly popular, it appears the alcohol industry and its good friends in Washington are beginning to recognize that marijuana legalization is imminent. So it would make sense for them to protect their turf by bashing marijuana and those who support making it legal, and working to scare the public into thinking marijuana is just too dangerous to make legal. (It should also be noted that some alcohol companies are speaking out to ensure consumers know they are NOT part of the anti-marijuana efforts.)

If that’s the fight Big Alcohol wants to pick, so be it. It has an increasingly uphill battle, but the industry has every right to take on the growing movement to reform marijuana laws. But as for Lamar Smith, he should come clean and explain what his motivation is for attacking marijuana policy reform and calling for increased enforcement. If it’s his concern for public safety, he’s a hypocrite who needs to stop and think about the impact of laws that drive Americans to drink by outlawing a safer alternative. And if it’s his ties to booze money, it’s simply unethical.

Mason Tvert is executive director of Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) and coauthor of “Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?”

Big Alcohol Fueling Opposition to California Marijuana Initiative

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

According to a recently filed campaign finance report, the campaign to defeat a marijuana legalization initiative in California is receiving substantial funding from the alcohol industry. Now marijuana advocates are fighting back, calling on the opposition campaign to explain why it is working with Big Alcohol to keep marijuana illegal.

On September 7th, the California Beer and Beverage Distributors contributed $10,000 to the No on Prop. 19 campaign, which calls itself “Public Safety First.” Proposition 19 would establish a legally regulated marijuana market in which marijuana is controlled and taxed in a fashion similar to alcohol.

It’s clear why the alcohol industry is in this fight — to protect its turf and keep Californians drinking. This is the same California Beer and Beverage Distributors gave $100,000 to oppose Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act (NORA), which would have reduced marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction. With marijuana being the second most popular recreational substance (despite its prohibition), the booze industry must recognize the threat legal marijuana poses to its bottom line. Thus, it has a vast financial interest in keeping marijuana illegal and steering Californians away from using it.

But why does the No on Prop. 19 campaign share Big Alcohol’s goal of an alcohol-only society? It seems odd that a group that purports to be committed to enhancing public safety wants to ensure Californians can only drink and cannot use marijuana as a safer recreational alternative.

After all, every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it is far safer than alcohol to the user and society. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol use alone contributes to more than 35,000 deaths each year — including several hundred from overdoses — whereas marijuana use does not contribute to any deaths and has never resulted in a fatal overdose in history. Also, whereas alcohol is a major contributing factor in domestic violence, sexual assaults, fights, and other violent crimes, marijuana has never been found to contribute to such problems.

2010-09-16-BigAlc.jpgIn light of “Public Safety First’s” decision to team up with the alcohol industry to ensure the booze keeps flowing and the pot does not, Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), the organization I run, called on No on Prop. 19 Campaign Manager Tim Rosales to explain the campaign’s desire to ensure alcohol is the only legal intoxicant available for adults.

Mr. Rosales has yet to respond to the upwards of 1,000 e-mails he has received from Prop. 19 supporters throughout California and across the nation. So I’ll ask him again here:

Mr. Rosales, if you and your campaign are so concerned about public safety, why do you want to continue driving Californians to drink, and why on earth wouldn’t you want adults to be able to make the rational choice to use a far less harmful substance?

Needless to say, I won’t be holding my breath as I await his response… I’ll just be at the bar drinking my worries away until the day I can legally make the safer choice to use marijuana instead.

Mason Tvert co-authored the book, Marijuana is Safer, So Why are we Driving People to Drink?

RN Cites Relative Safety of Marijuana in Defense of California Legalization Measure

Monday, September 13th, 2010

A great column from registered nurse Lanny Swerdlow appeared in today’s edition of the Palm Springs newspaper, The Desert Sun.  In it, Swerdlow highlights the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol and suggests California would be a safer and healthier state if Proposition 19 — the measure to control and tax cannabis — is adopted by voters in November.

A couple great excerpts are below, or you can read the entire column by clicking HERE.
Proposition 19 opponents point to the societal and health costs of alcohol as proof there will be increased costs if marijuana is legalized. Truth be told, health care costs will go down when responsible adults are allowed to make the rational, safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol…

Revenue raised, police resources wisely used are excellent reasons to support Proposition 19, but it is the ability of marijuana to replace alcohol as a relaxant and mood enhancer without the liver destroying, judgment impairing and violence inducing properties of alcohol that makes the passage of Proposition 19 vital to the health of the individual and the community.

Mason Tvert is the co-author of Marijuana is Safer, so Why are we Driving People to Drink?, and the Executive Director of Safer Choice.

College Students Nationwide: Allow Marijuana as a Safer Alternative to Alcohol

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Originally published in the Huffington Post.

Students at more than 80 colleges and universities across 34 states held rallies on their campuses this week to recognize April as National Alcohol Awareness Month. At first glance, these events don’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary. The message behind them, however, was anything but ordinary.

At the rallies, students called on their respective schools to “stop driving them to drink” and urged them to allow marijuana as a safer recreational alternative to alcohol. In particular, the students argued that laws and policies on and around most college campuses punish students more harshly for marijuana use than for alcohol use, steering them toward drinking and away from using a far less harmful substance instead: marijuana. 2010-04-07-SuffolkNORMLdayofaction-SUNORMLhub1.jpg

Every day college students demand the right to use marijuana, but it’s not every day that they do so in an effort to curb alcohol use and abuse. Needless to say, the effort raised eyebrows and generated quite a bit of media attention.

As the Chronicle of Higher Education reported:

Colleges themselves, organizers say, unwittingly encourage drinking by enforcing zero-tolerance policies against students who are caught smoking marijuana.

Rob Pfountz, a sophomore at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, says that at his campus, penalties for using marijuana are three times tougher than those used against underage students who are caught drinking.

“At the very least,” he says, “penalties for marijuana should be no worse than for those against alcohol.”

This student makes a pretty good point, as does this one in The Daily Camera:

“As adults, it should be our right to choose,” [CU-Boulder student Andrew] Orr said. “It’s a safer drug than alcohol, so we should be able to consume it instead if we want and we shouldn’t be punished worse for choosing to use one over the other.”

Every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it’s far safer than alcohol for the user and for society. So what is the logic behind laws and campus policies that punish students more harshly for marijuana and send the message that alcohol is more acceptable?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Task Force on College Drinking, each year the use of alcohol by college students contributes to approximately 1,700 student deaths (including several fatal overdoses); 600,000 unintentional student injuries; 695,000 assaults involving students; and 97,000 sexual assaults and date rapes involving students. Yet no such statistics exist when it comes to marijuana, which has never been found to contribute to any deaths, let alone fatal overdoses. All objective research on marijuana has also concluded that it does not contribute to injuries, assaults, sexual abuse, or violent or aggressive behavior.

Along with highlighting the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol, students on each of the campuses delivered a copy of the “Emerald Initiative” to their university’s president or chancellor.

The Emerald Initiative is a nationally coordinated response to the Amethyst Initiative — a statement endorsed by more than 130 college presidents and chancellors, calling for “informed and dispassionate public debate” on whether lowering the legal drinking age to 18 would reduce levels of student drinking and incidences of the serious problems associated with it. The Emerald Initiative calls on these same presidents and chancellors — as well as others — to support “informed and dispassionate public debate” on whether allowing students to use marijuana more freely could reduce dangerous drinking on and around college campuses.

At this point, the college drinking problem has gotten so bad that administrators nationwide are no longer satisfied simply encouraging students to drink responsibly or promoting “social norms drinking.” They are actually proposing a lowering of the drinking age in order to curb dangerous student alcohol use. Now don’t get me wrong — I support this debate; but there’s no logical reason why we can’t also consider the possibility that allowing students to use marijuana might also result in less (and/or less dangerous) alcohol use.

Some may scoff at the Emerald Initiative, but its no less viable a plan than the Amethyst Initiative, and this is literally a matter of life and death.

For example, take the University of Maryland — home of President Dan Mote, one of the most vocal supporters of the Amethyst Initiative:

The group chose to demonstrate outside the administration building because of its chief occupant, university President Dan Mote.

“Mote himself has admitted that alcohol is the cause of most of the problems, not marijuana,” [NORML Terps President Zach] Brown said, adding that it’s therefore hypocritical to punish marijuana more seriously.

Although Mote supports the Amethyst Initiative, which calls for a debate among university presidents and chancellors about the legal drinking age, NORML Terps criticized Mote for his failure to support the Emerald Initiative, which invites a similar discussion about marijuana policies.

But with Mote resigning at the end of this school year and the university in the midst of a search for his replacement, NORML Terps hope the change in president will bring a change in policies.

“In my next president, I want a more pragmatic approach,” Brown said. “We need a president who will look at how the policies are affecting our students.”

And who would know best how policies are affecting students? The gray-haired college administrators? Or the students themselves?

In fact, that’s the thrust behind the SAFER Campuses Initiative - a project of the organization I run - which was behind this day of action and has been picking up steam since it’s launch in 2005. Since then, students have carried out campus referenda campaigns at more than a dozen colleges and universities, including at least five of the 15 largest schools in the nation. SAFER referendums express the student bodies’ opinion that school penalties for marijuana use should be no greater than those for alcohol use, that way students are no longer steered toward using the more harmful substance.

In some cases, the efforts appear to be paying off. For example, a university committee at the University of Central Florida just recommended the equalization of campus alcohol and marijuana penalties. Now, it heads to university administrators’ desks for final approval. If they didn’t hear their students when they overwhelmingly voted for such a policy back in December 2008, hopefully they heard their students - and their peers across the country - this past week.

Mason Tvert is the executive director of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) and the co-author of Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, August 2009).