By Gabriela Laracca
On Feb. 16 at 7 p.m., ACE presented Washington-based marijuana attorney Merwin Moe Spencer. The Trinidad-and-Tobago-born activist took the stage in MSU 183 to speak about the herb, its history, legality, medical benefits and current industry. Spencer’s work focuses on licensing in the industry as well as defense of those involved.
The speech was divided into two parts. The first part discussed of the legalization of marijuana. He explained that due to Richard Nixon’s Controlled Substance Act, thousands have been wrongfully incarcerated.
Nixon’s ulterior motive in dubbing marijuana as a narcotic was to prevent counter-culture, peace-lovers of the generation, who so obviously opposed him, from voting. This motive is proven in the Nixon tapes, which Spencer referenced several times while discussing the conspired prohibition of the plant. The scheduling of marijuana as a schedule I narcotic was only supposed to be temporary, yet, due to Nixon’s impeachment, is still instated.
He even explained how Nixon disposed of the Shafer Commission Report created by former PA governor Raymond P. Shafer. Shafer stated that the laws against marijuana were too harsh compared to the actual act.
Spencer also discussed yellow-journalist, William Randolph Hearst’s role in ostracizing marijuana and those who use it. He explained that a common hoax used was that minority men would smoke the drug and rape white women. Another attempt at giving marijuana a bad name was relating marijuana to jazz musicians who were black. The stigma on the plant was formulated through racism and uninformed individual’s beliefs, according to Spencer.
Many audience members appreciated Spencer’s clarity and viable references.
“He gave us a lot of footnotes from where he got the sources. He documented everything that he said,” said Petrista Chatzitziva, advisor of ACE.
The attorney also discussed the medical benefits of marijuana. He referenced Robert Randall, the first legal medical-marijuana patient in the US. It was proven that marijuana decreased Randall’s blindness caused by Glaucoma.
Upon conclusion of the first part of his speech, Spencer discussed how many individuals are involved and affected by the prohibition on marijuana. He explained that the DEA pays precincts around the country to find the drugs and put those involved in jail. Although the US only accounts for five percent of the world’s population, we hold 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. A majority of these prisoners are incarcerated on drug charges, especially involving marijuana. Even more specifically, a lot of these prisoners are minorities, which is a major cause Spencer spoke about in his presentation.
Spencer emphasized that “prisons were made for violent crimes.” Yet, in this day, they are used as a means of bringing in government money. In other words, the prisoners are not seen as people but as cash-crops.
“I think the benefit of it being decriminalized and legalized is that you stop giving people criminal records,” said Spencer.
Students agreed heavily with Spencer on this point.
“A lot of college students are smoking weed these days and I think people should know it’s not harmful,” said sophomore Mark Weaver. “People should be protected against unjust incarceration.”
Stephen Lessley, sophomore, also said, “It’s an issue that affects a great amount of us and it’s going to affect our futures.”
College students especially lose a lot when charged with drug-possession, even minor drug-possession. They could lose federal aid and housing alongside the tremendous financial burden of fines and possible jail-time.
“I know so many people who got in so much trouble just because they had a joint on them or some other small amount,” said Carina Lombardo, member of ACE. “I feel like the amount of trouble they got in was unnecessary for the amount [marijuana] they had on them.”
The second half of the speech went onto discuss the legalization of marijuana in certain US states and the booming industry that has arisen from it. Referencing his line of work, Spencer discussed licensing and other factors that go into being involved in the production and sales.
He also explained what people can do if they feel strongly for this topic or any other topic.
“Be a part of it, put your foot in it, jump in the deep end with whatever it is you that you want to do,” he said.
Students agreed by stating what can be done to further the efforts.
“It is important to elect the right government officials, such as Bernie Sanders, who are for legalization efforts,” said Weaver. Sanders was also referenced in Spencer’s presentation.
Even those who are on the fence with this topic could have learned things through the presentation.
“The discussion is opening up more and more on whether marijuana should be legalized and how
we should handle the delicate issues that may arise from it,” said senior, Viviana Vidal. “It doesn’t matter whether you agree with the message or not. What is important is that it is promoting a healthy discussion from every angle of the argument.”
To learn more about the speaker, visit http://www.spencerpalacelaw.com.