Jessamyn Stanley believes we need to shift the conversation around cannabis.
The body positive yoga instructor is also the cofounder of We Go High NC, a North Carolina-based cannabis justice initiative fighting to legalize and decriminalize marijuana.
The stigma against marijuana use is beyond counterproductive to Stanley, as she explains it's actively harmful, especially to communities of color who are punished disproportionately for it.
Jessamyn Stanley on Decriminalizing Cannabis | Advocate Now
"Cannabis users, even in places where cannabis is legal, we are relegated to the shadows," Stanley tells Sonia Baghdady of Advocate Now. "We feel shame for our practice, and we feel like we can't talk to each other about it. We can't talk about it in the mainstream. People are afraid of what it means to be called a stoner."
She adds: "All of these ideas that individually contribute to us having a system where there are people who are making millions, billions of dollars on cannabis while other people are in prison for the exact same practice."
To Stanley, the fight goes beyond the legalization of marijuana, which she categorizes as an economic issue. She says that decriminalization is a matter of justice, which would ensure those who use the substance could not be legally or socially punished.
"Legalization is really about bringing cannabis to the plant itself, to different markets. It's really an issue. It's an economic issue. In a lot of ways," she explains. "Decriminalization is a justice issue. It's about making sure that people who use cannabis do not have to fear for their safety, their livelihoods."
Decriminalization is key to combatting the stigma against marijuana use, though it goes hand-in-hand with legalization. Fighting for both would ensure people could use the substance freely and openly.
"There's so many people who would lose their job if it was ever clear to anyone that they use cannabis, like they would lose their housing," Stanley continues. "This is something that decriminalization actually directly impacts because it makes space for people to feel free in their lives, regardless of how you get the plants or whether you even use the plant at all. It's about freedom as opposed to legalization, which is really a monetary issue."
When it comes to cannabis, Stanley believes that incarceration should not be on the table. She says marijuana is no more dangerous or harmful than other legalized substances, including alcohol.
"I don't believe that incarceration should be at all a response to it, [or] should be even be a part of the cannabis conversation," Stanley says. "I think that cannabis is a plant that is in the same category as coffee or tobacco. While it is a commodity, it's not something that needs to be used as a part of the justice system."
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