Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Atlanta cannabis conference focuses on decriminalizing drug laws

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 12:46 PM

Advocates of ending marijuana prohibition host Q&A panel
  • David Schick
  • Advocates of ending marijuana prohibition host Q&A panel

Marijuana activists gathered in Midtown at this weekend's Southern Cannabis Reform Conference to unite and discuss how to reform antiquated marijuana laws.

Several pro-marijuana groups gathered at the Spring4th Center in Midtown to promote the idea of drug decriminalization and discuss ways to improve community outreach.

The two-day summit was organized by Peachtree National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform and Education (CARE), the American Cannabis Coalition, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and Georgia NORML, among others.

"We want to put a face to the marijuana issue," said James Bell, director of Georgia CARE. Bell recently put forth a proposal to study and expand Georgia's current medical marijuana laws and is still seeking Gold Dome sponsors.

Bell's unsure of the proposal's chances at the statehouse. But he thinks the groups' efforts could be a part of the criminal justice reform that's making its way through the Capitol. He wants to find a way the movement can piggyback on those changes.

"They're the key to [marijuana] reform in Georgia right now," Bell told CL. "Nothing's going to happen unless they say so."

Over the two-day event, activists educated each other and the public and brainstormed ideas to try and end marijuana prohibition. The sessions included:

* Together: Yes WEed Can!: Keynote speaker Sabrina Fendrick, who established the NORML Women's Alliance, said the South was lagging behind the rest of the country when it comes to reforming marijuana laws. She noted that the majority of people arrested for marijuana-related offenses are Latinos and blacks, despite the fact that whites use the drug just as much. "There's no question that prohibition is a racial issue," she said.

* Reducing Death, Disease, Crime and Addiction: The Case for the Regulation of Cannabis: Diane Goldstein, a retired California police lieutenant commander and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), addressed the problems with the practical problems of prohibition.

* Can Cannabis cure Cancer?: Rebecca Forbes of the American Cannabis Coalition shared her personal experience with medical marijuana and claimed that it helped send her cancer into regression.

On Saturday, Cathrine Bernard, a Republican public defender from Dublin, Ga., led a talk about jury nullification, an idea that jurors can acquit defendants if they don't agree with the law that person is accused of breaking. During the wide-ranging event, Bernard also said Democrats have failed in ending the war on drugs and that Republicans could do a better job. She also blasted civil forfeiture laws and said the war on drugs has destroyed families.

"It doesn't matter if you use drugs every day or if you've never touched marijuana in your life," she said. "You still shouldn't want men and women hauled away from their families for no reason. And you still shouldn't want to see tax dollars spent locking up the wrong people while criminals go free on the street."

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