By Gabriela Laracca
On Feb.16, ACE will be presenting Merwin Moe Spencer’s “Smoke Screen: Under the Influence of Marijuana Politics and Power” at 7 p.m. in MSU 183. The speaker, a Seattle-based marijuana attorney, was recruited to speak at KU from the last National Association of Campus Activities conference.
Spencer has been a licensed attorney for 18 years following his attendance of the University Of Oregon School Of Law in Eugene, Oregon. He has been representing licensed marijuana growers and processors for around two years at his own firm, Spencer Palace Law. Also, in Aug., 2015, Spencer made US history by teaching the first ever marijuana class at an undergraduate college. The class was titled ‘Marijuana Business and Licensing’ and was taught at Edmonds Community College in Edmonds, Washington.
Part of the speech will discuss the history of marijuana.
“His speech will inform the KU community while explaining the history of how [marijuana] became classified as a narcotic,” said Danielle Gentile, treasurer of ACE.
Spencer described marijuana and small possession charges as a “low-hanging fruit” for the criminal justice system.
He plans to discuss the system’s association of marijuana with the black community in history as well as the current, disproportionate incarceration rate of black males on drug charges. Being originally from the islands of Trinidad and Tobago before moving to Texas, rightful and equal treatment of black individuals in the law’s eyes is a notion he advocates for.
He will also discuss the ethical issues behind the current, mass incarceration of individuals on petty, non-violent drug charges. “Prisons were meant for violent crimes,” said Spencer.
He went onto explain that America holds 20 percent of the world’s prisoners and how the rising numbers started to happen when law officials started focusing on drugs. “These staggering numbers of people being put in prison for something prison wasn’t entirely meant for has boggled everyone.”
Many people agree with this message while students especially are affected by these rising numbers. “If you go to jail, it is difficult to find a job, it is difficult to have a house,” said Petritsa Chatzitziva, advisor of ACE. “I think we put people in prison for doing something that [does not] affect others.”
Aside from the history and ethical issues on the herb, Spencer also plans to discuss the licensing process for individuals who wish to pursue marijuana cultivation in states where it is legal.
Students and faculty are already anticipating the event, especially from an educational standpoint. “I think that it will definitely be a learning experience for the KU community and open their minds to the different sides of the controversy,” said Gentile.
Amanda Koye, president of ACE, also said, “It’s going to be a good presentation because he’s unbiased and he’s showing us the reality of things.”
Students also anticipate the presentation from an ethical standpoint. “It is important to keep talking about the injustices this government has done to its own people,” said Stephen Lessley, sophomore electronic media major. “The war on drugs needs to end, and I am glad someone is talking about that here at our school.”
At the end of the presentation, a Q&A session as well as an open reception to speak with Spencer will be held.