During a live online debate Wednesday on California’s Proposition 64, the attorney arguing against a vote for marijuana legalization compared the last twenty years of medical marijuana to “Jim Crow laws”, saying that marijuana consumers have “been treated like the n*ggers.” [UPDATED with reaction from Letitia Pepper, see below]
An online talk show called “Cannabis Talk” featured a debate on Prop 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, on California’s November’s ballot. Arguing in favor of legalizing personal marijuana use and cultivation was NORML Legal Committee Attorney Matt Kumin. Arguing against ending the status quo of tickets and arrests for consumers and growers was Attorney Letitia Pepper.
Pepper has become a high-profile spokesperson for a fringe minority group of cannabis producers, sellers, and consumers who always join the police, prison industry, prosecutors, prohibitionists, piss testers, and pot rehabs in voting “no” on marijuana legalization ballot measures. She opposed California’s last legalization vote, the ill-fated Proposition 19 in 2010, as well.
PEPPER: So, on the civil rights issue… Everybody in this room, right now, in California, we are being treated – and I use this word and people are like, “oh don’t say that,” but I’m going to - the ‘n-word’. Everybody in California who has used marijuana since the Compassionate Use Act passed, whether you’re black, brown, white, yellow, we have all been treated like the n*ggers were treated, right?
When we passed Equal Rights laws, to protect people, and what happened? States, cities, counties passed Jim Crow Laws to take those rights away. And how long did it take those people to get their rights back? A hundred years and fine people being killed, being lynched, to get back rights they already have.
While Pepper’s use of the infamous racial epithet is deplorable, her casual equalization of life for cannabis consumers under twenty years of California’s medical marijuana law with the century of terrorism and apartheid experienced by African-Americans between the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights Act is far more reprehensible.
No medical marijuana patients are being lynched in California.
Perhaps Pepper should take some time to study up on the history of Jim Crow. For generations, African-Americans were segregated from whites by law, a practice then deemed constitutional by the odious Plessy v. Ferguson ”separate but equal” Supreme Court decision.
In addition to the formal punishments for violating legal apartheid, like drinking from the white water fountain, unwritten codes kept blacks in the lower caste by denying them any social equality with whites, such as shaking hands, being introduced, looking at white women, or taking the right-of-way.
The unfortunate black men and women who ran afoul of these codes were subject to mob violence. The worst occasions being the lynching that drew crowds and spawned postcards. For fifty years in ten Southern states there was nearly a lynching per week (warning: graphic images). This isn’t ancient history, either; the last recorded lynching happened during the Reagan Administration.
Under the Compassionate Use Act, medical marijuana patients escape the harsh penalties that are still meted out for the same marijuana activities undertaken by an adult without a doctor’s permission slip.
It should be noted that, yes, the estimable Prof. Michelle Alexander has dubbed the War on Drugs as The New Jim Crow. But the medical marijuana patients and growers are largely protected from the War on Drugs. It is the non-medical consumers who are treated separately and unequally. Those are the people we’re voting to emancipate as we join the California NAACP and ACLU of California in approving Proposition 64.
Letitia Pepper’s not fond of following rules.
I’ve had the chance to witness Pepper’s antics in person. I was part of a panel supporting Prop 64 in a debate on the statehouse steps. Pepper was supposed to be on the panel supporting prohibition, but on the day of the event, she canceled. However, she still set up an anti-Prop 64 table at the event and heckled me and the others on my side of the panel. At one point, she was given the microphone by one of the other panelists and allowed to complain about her perceived mistreatment by the event organizer.
(To be fair, one of the co-panelists on my side, known as Sister Kate, opened up the debate with another terrible metaphor, trying to compare the legalization under Prop 64 to a benevolent slave owner, in contrast to comparing the existing prohibition to a cruel slave owner. And oddly enough, a deaconess who proselytizes the sacrament of cannabis uses a euphemism for the word marijuana, which she calls “cannabis’ slave name”, and equates to the infamous racial epithet. How about we just stop with the slavery metaphors, fellow white marijuana law reformers?)
Since then, she has become a confrontational irritant at public forums discussing marijuana regulation, punctuated by a 2013 arrest in the Riverside City Council when she would not follow council rules of decorum forbidding “unruly conduct, such as undue noise….” Undeterred, she sued the city of Riverside for violating her First Amendment rights and the city negotiated a $50,000 settlement after spending more than $186,000 on legal fees.
Pepper’s inability to follow the rules also extends to the courtroom. In 2011, Pepper was involved in a juvenile dependency case called In re Hayden M. H. Pepper (the respondent) got into a disagreement with the judge. This is how the judge of the State Bar Court, Richard A. Platel, described Pepper’s actions, which earned her an official public reproval:
The evidence shows that respondent, who was present in the courtroom for the August 29, 2011 hearing in the In re Hayden M. H. proceeding, was ordered by the court to leave the courtroom four times. After taking the Marsden hearing off calendar, the court informed respondent that she had no standing to be in the courtroom during the In re Hayden M. H. proceeding, which was a closed proceeding, and ordered her out of the courtroom. After being warned by Judge Rushton that the court would hold her in contempt if she did not leave the courtroom, respondent gathered her belonging and left. However, within 10 minutes of having been ordered out of the courtroom, respondent re-entered the courtroom.
Respondent knew or should have known that she had been ordered out of the courtroom and that pursuant to the court’s order she was not allowed to re-enter the courtroom. By reentering the courtroom, respondent disobeyed the court’s order.
After stating the court’s version of the facts and events that had transpired, Judge Rushton gave respondent an opportunity to explain, provide an excuse, or apologize to the court. When the hearing concluded, the court found that: (1) respondent engaged in contemptuous, insolent and disruptive behavior toward the court by returning to the courtroom after she had been ordered to leave; (2) respondent’s behavior was a breach of the peace; and (3) the court’s order sending respondent out of the courtroom was a lawful order of the court. The court then found respondent guilty of contempt and ordered that she pay a $1,000 sanction.
You can listen to the entire episode from Cannabis Talk below:
I suggest that instead of relying on this slanted summary of what I said, people watch the actual debate and hear my words in context. But don’t be surprised if the unedited debate is not made available, since the sponsor of this radio show is WeedMaps, one of the major funders of Prop. 64.
I completely agree. Please, listen to Letitia Pepper say “Everybody in California who has used marijuana since [1996… has] been treated like the n*ggers were treated” in context. That’s why, in addition to the 0:39 clip, I included the full 56:32 audio and the original Facebook post containing a longer video of the show filmed from the audience.
It’s telling, however, that Pepper’s first instinct in defense of the quote using the most infamous racial epithet was that she was taken out of context, followed by a conspiracy theory that a sponsor of the show that is also a proponent of Prop 64 would have the full recording scrubbed from the internet.
I mean, how hard is it to click the play button on the Soundcloud player at the bottom of the post to discover that the evil Machiavellian Pro-64 WeedMaps millionaires haven’t scrubbed a thing? (Except that in the full 56:32 audio, the producers have helped Pepper by scrubbing with silence where she said “n-word” and “n*gger”.)
But let’s pretend that GeorgeMonsantoSoros and the global Illuminati might decide that leaving the full recording online would ruin their malevolent distortion of Pepper’s words. Wouldn’t it be in her best interest to hurry up now, while it’s still online, and record all the context that vindicates her not-at-all hyperbolic, offense, racist comment?
Well, I know Pepper’s really busy fabricating worst-case scenarios for what happens if we stop using tickets and felonies to enforce a monopoly for permission slip doctors that creates the artificial scarcity needed to keep weed prices at $300 an ounce… so I took the time to download the entire debate so we could preserve the section that illustrates her context. After all, I knew that if the New World Order forced the show hosts to delete the full recording and I left the thirty-nine second clip online, that would only prove how the millions GeorgeMonsantoSoros pays me is pulling my strings to quote Pepper out of context.
Pepper’s quote comes at the 1:46 point of her 6:08 opening statement, or at 6:35 in the recording at this link. Dear readers, please listen for yourself if you think I’m slanting anything in my synopsis below.
Kumin sets the context: civil rights process requires slow, incremental changes over time.
Attorney Matt Kumin begins his 4:40 opening statement [at 0:08] by invoking the slow incremental change necessary in the fight for civil rights, setting the context for the debate.
[0:26] “We knew… that we wanted to end slavery,” he explains, but it’s taken “years and years and years to change the laws. Is there progress? Sure… Is there enough? No…”
[0:53] “When I first read [Prop 64]… I didn’t think it went far enough.”
[1:16] “Nothing ever comes all at once for us… We have to keep fighting…”
[1:31] “If I had my say, I’d put out something different… But I also recognize the political reality… the drafters had to write something that was a little more conservative.”
[1:57] “This is a step forward for us… and the distorted comments about… Prop 215… I couldn’t let those stand…”
[2:17] “It’s actually going to give us rights that we never had before…”
[2:35] “We’re going to have a statutory right now to grow a minimum six plants…”
[2:58] “All I see in my law practice, because I actually practice law, I actually do practice law every day…”
[3:12] “Legalization is just going to open up more and more opportunities…”
[3:39] “Using the word ‘legalization’ is tricky…”
[3:47] “[1 oz / 6 plants] is no longer probable cause for the police to do anything to you…”
[3:58] “If it’s over that amount, then you’ve got issues…”
[4:11] “[Prop 64] is another step, another chink in the armor of law enforcement, who’s against this… I’m not going to stay on their side…”
So the context Kumin set is that marijuana law reform is a civil rights battle, it’s not everything we’d want, but civil rights battles are won through slow, incremental progress. He invokes slavery to show how the Civil War’s end didn’t end the fight for civil rights, it only began the fight that rages on today.
Kumin’s point: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Kumin’s allusion to slavery and incremental change is similar to slavery / Jim Crow analogies I have made in the past:
- We didn’t reject the Emancipation Proclamation because it didn’t legalize interracial marriage;
- We won’t get from absolute prohibition to True Legalization™ in one leap any more than we got from slavery straight to Barack Obama’s inauguration; we’ll have our Reconstruction – Jim Crow – Selma phases to get through first;
- If you’re being whipped seven days a week and you’re offered weekends off, you don’t turn it down because ongoing weekday whippings are unjust.
In other words, you use what newfound freedoms and rights you can get now to aid the fight for more later – you spend the weekend trying to figure out how to steal the whip. These analogies are to the glacial incremental change similar to all successful civil rights movements and to not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. These analogies don’t equate or imply equating the suffering of black people under Jim Crow to the suffering of pot smokers with a permission slip who might have to pay an extra $150 now if they’re caught toking in a non-smoking zone.
Pepper misses the point about the civil rights process, compares Prop 64 to civil rights abuses.
With the context set, Attorney Letitia Pepper begins her statement at 4:48, excited to be following Kumin’s statement. She seems positively giddy that Kumin has framed the Prop 64 debate around civil rights.
[5:02] “After he did that opening, oh yes I can [give a heated, passionate debate]…”
[5:09] “I retired from the state… in 2004… with multiple sclerosis…”
[5:15] “I [represented] a black police officer… all the way to the Ninth Circuit… [and] made good law for civil rights…”
[5:41] “I also represented somebody whose kid was taken by CPS…”
Here, Pepper takes nearly a full minute delivering a dissertation of her public reproval by the state bar’s Judge Platel over her contempt for Judge Rushton, who she says is “a terrible judge who would not follow state law”. Hearing this as I wrote the original post was the first time I was aware of it, by the way (thanks, Letitia!)
You’d think someone would prosecute a judge who is violating state law. Instead, he ran unopposed for a second term, and I can’t seem to find any sanction, reprovals, or disciplinary actions against him as a judge. He was a prosecutor in Riverside before that working in drug enforcement, so I’m not saying he’s got pristine ethics. But while I find some online complaints about him from people he sentenced and those who say his Mormonism makes him an unfit judge, and some indication he might have some issues with respect to race, I find no proof he’s violating state law or was ever publicly censured or criminally convicted for it.
So there is the entire 6:45-worth of context that led up to:
[6:45] “So, on the civil rights issue… Everybody in this room, right now, in California, we are being treated – and I use this word and people are like, “oh don’t say that,” but I’m going to - the ‘n-word’. Everybody in California who has used marijuana since the Compassionate Use Act passed, whether you’re black, brown, white, yellow, we have all been treated like the n*ggers were treated, right? When we passed Equal Rights laws, to protect people, and what happened? States, cities, counties passed Jim Crow Laws to take those rights away. And how long did it take those people to get their rights back? A hundred years and fine people being killed, being lynched, to get back rights they already have.”
Pepper went beyond Kumin’s idea that, like ending slavery, ending prohibition would take a long series of incremental victories for incomplete rights. Pepper directly compares post-Prop 215 cannabis consumers experience to how African-Americans were treated during Jim Crow, including lynching.
Even the twisted point Pepper is making doesn’t make sense by her own pretzel logic. If slavery’s end led to equal rights laws that were then undercut by Jim Crow laws, then by this analogy, prohibition is slavery, Prop 215 is the equal rights laws, and everything since has been Jim Crow, from local bans to SB420 to MCRSA to Prop 64.
Therefore, we shouldn’t have passed the equal rights laws or Prop 215, because they were incomplete guarantees of freedom and rights easily undercut by legislation? We should have maintained slavery and prohibition until we could pass the equal rights that include the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and legalization of unlimited marijuana for all people?
Or maybe she’s asserting that the medical marijuana status quo since Prop 215, including all the local bans and SB420 and MCRSA, is the equal rights protection that will be undone by Prop 64’s Jim Crow. But that makes no sense, because Prop 215 isn’t equal rights protection at all. It provides no right to possess or cultivate cannabis for all people; it merely guarantees an inconsistent defense for some people.
Pepper’s point: Like Jim Crow laws, Prop 64 will subvert recently recognized rights.
As for the rest of her opening statement, in case that clarifies the context for us any:
[7:19] “There’s a case called People v. Kelly…”
[7:45] “Patients have the constitutionally-protected right to grow, use, and possess as much marijuana as they need for their personal medicinal use…”
No, they do not. Here is the relevant text from Prop 215:
§11362.5(d): Section 11357, relating to the possession of marijuana, and Section 11358, relating to the cultivation of marijuana, shall not apply to a patient, or to a patient’s primary caregiver, who possesses or cultivates marijuana for the personal medical purposes of the patient upon the written or oral recommendation or approval of a physician.
Section 11357 is the crime of possession. Section 11358 is the crime of cultivation. Section 11362.5 only says you can’t use those sections to prosecute patients. Now, it may seem like a meaningless detail, but something being unpunished does not make that something legal. Section 11362.5 doesn’t say “patients have a right to grow and possess”, it says, “if patients commit the crimes of growing and possessing, you can’t punish them”.
Rights aren’t something that requires a permission slip and only applies to certain people. Pepper tries to make it so by noting the California Supreme Court’s Kelly rejection of a presumptive minimum amount set by SB 420. But Kelly merely affirmed that defining any limit supersedes a physician’s right to determine what amounts are needed for “personal medical purposes”.
In other words, Kelly affirmed a physician’s First Amendment right to recommend any amounts, not a patient’s non-existent rights to grow cannabis and possess marijuana.
Pepper’s Hail Mary Pass to Save Unregulated Wild West Medical Marijuana.
[8:15] “Prop 215 has no limits…”
[8:21] “If you have an initiative… the legislature can’t change it.”
[8:38] “Most of [MCRSA] is unconstitutional and that’s why they need Prop 64 to pass… because we can sue and get rid of it, like we did the limits in… SB 420.”
This is the entire crux of the Stoners Against Legalization argument against Prop 64:
- Prop 215 is sacrosanct and perfect, and as an initiative, immune from the legislature.
- The legislature passed MCRSA, unconstitutionally limiting Prop 215.
- A lawsuit like People v. Kelly will overturn all of MCRSA, just like it overturned SB 420 limits, because legislature can’t change initiative.
- Prop 64, however, “elevates” MCRSA to the status of an initiative, since 64 invokes MCRSA.
- That will thwart the People v. Kelly-like lawsuit that kills MCRSA.
- So defeat Prop 64 so we can kill MCRSA and go back to Prop 215 like it was in 2003, when everything was perfect, everybody could grow everywhere in California, and every locality had safe access points to purchase marijuana.
The problems with this pseudo-logic are:
- Prop 215 is far from perfect and has led to numerous bans, inconsistent protection, and arrests and trials.
- MCRSA regulates the commercial marijuana industry, not patients and caregivers. Its ending of collectives and cooperatives is moot, as those aren’t authorized by Prop 215. The potentially vulnerable constitutional provision is requiring local permits for commercial cultivation, a permit not required by patients cultivating less than 100 square feet for personal medical purposes (500 square feet for caregivers of five or fewer). Perhaps that means a local government denying your permit for a 10,000 square foot “personal” garden is unconstitutionally limiting your “doctor’s” First Amendment right to recommend you need an entire farm for personal use….
- But even if that’s true, Kelly only killed the limit in SB 420, not the whole thing. The imaginary best case scenario in Prop 64’s failure, then, would be striking that 100 square foot presumptive personal garden limit. All the rest of the commercial regulations would stand.
- But the problem still is that nothing about passing an initiative “elevates” a previous legislative statute. If Prop 64 says “follow MCRSA” and MCRSA says “limit Prop 215”, that doesn’t mean “Prop 64 says limit Prop 215”, making that change valid by doing it through initiative. No, Prop 64 itself would need to say “gardens over 100 sqft must get permit” for that.
- So Prop 64 changes nothing in this scenario. MCRSA was passed in September 2015. The next month, a Santa Clara medical marijuana profiteer sued for injunctive relief, citing these very arguments. The MCRSA laws that Armstrong v. California is attacking will still exist after Prop 64 passes and could still be determined to violate the rights established by Prop 215.
- But even if miracles happened and Armstrong v. California is upheld and all of MCRSA is repealed, California may not return to 2003, but possibly further back to 1995. Within his complaint, Armstrong argues that MCRSA and all its related regulations “are preempted by federal law”. Upholding Armstrong wouldn’t just kill MCRSA, it could kill other parts of Prop 215.
So, then, Pepper is asking voters to reject Prop 64 legalization of personal marijuana possession, extracts possession, cannabis cultivation, shopping outlets, and smoking lounges and events for all adults, handing to prohibitionists their biggest victory ever and forestalling the entire global drug reform movement, based on a Hail Mary pass legal experts say is highly unlikely to succeed or, if it did, might imperil medical marijuana in California… because it would require that the medical marijuana gardens bigger than 10 feet by 10 feet (or 22⅓ feet by 22⅓ feet for up to five patients) are subject to the commercial regulations?
Pepper Believes Affirmative Defenses Make Crimes Legal
[9:03] “In order to have an affirmative defense, that means that what you were doing… is something that has been made lawful.”
No, that’s not the case at all. Pepper uses the example of homicide. It’s illegal to kill people. But if you did it in self-defense, you have an affirmative defense, because killing someone in self-defense is legal.
Again, Pepper confuses the difference between “legal” and “unpunished”. As the FindLaw blog writes:
“An affirmative defense is a justification for the defendant having committed the accused crime. It differs from other defenses because the defendant admits that he did, in fact, break the law. He is simply arguing that he has a good reason for having done so, and therefore should be excused from all criminal liability.”
When you kill the guy attacking you, you’ve committed a crime, but defending yourself is a justification to avoid punishment.
Cultivating cannabis and possessing marijuana is still illegal. You can still be arrested, jailed, and tried before you get to argue that affirmative defense. You still have to prove you are a patient, prove you did have a recommendation, and prove your crop is needed for personal medical use only. You don’t have to do any of those things when an act is legal and having that defense doesn’t make it legal. (After all, a Florida woman recently used a medical necessity defense to get out of her felony cultivation charges, because she has a medical marijuana card from Maine. That doesn’t mean growing weed is now legal for patients in Florida.)
[9:43] Your right to raise Prop 215 as a defense… is because you have a constitutionally-protected right to grow, use, and possess…
You will spend a long time searching the Constitution for that right, because as I’ve already shown above, all Prop 215 does is says that §11357 & §11358 punishments don’t apply to patients. Ironically, it’s a good thing that Prop 215 doesn’t actually establish a constitutional right to possess marijuana and grow cannabis that Armstrong‘s lawsuit could define as violating federal law.
[9:59] Prop 215 is the best marijuana law in the country, because there’s no limit on who can be a patient. If you have any kind of health problem or you could get a prescription for any drug… you have a right to use whole herbal cannabis instead.
I have no health problems. I cannot get any prescription. Even if I could, I could not afford them. So, I guess there are some limits on who can be a patient and some people don’t have this mythical right to marijuana under Prop 215.
Rights don’t require permission slips; they are inherent. Pepper is thinking of privileges.
Pepper’s Context: It’s A Conspiracy To Enrich Big Pharma By Killing Prop 215!
[10:25] That has been the Big Lie, told… by the people who want the corporations to come in: NORML, APA, ASA, LEAP, check and see who’s been funding them…
Well, if we’re going to concentrate on potentially-corrupted entities doing the bidding of their funders to engage in politics that benefits their bottom line, perhaps we should discuss where Letitia Pepper gets the money for all of the color copy fliers and posters she’s distributing, who’s paying the expenses of herself and Drgaonfly de la Luz, and why it is all the Stoners Against Legalization always seem to be medical/illicit growers, medical/illicit sellers, and others whose profitability is threatened by competition with “the corporations”?
[10:53] Where is the money coming from? It’s shareholders in prescription drug companies!
Yes, that must be it. In order to improve their bottom line, Big Pharma is colluding with drug reform organizations, civil rights organizations, health organizations, and billionaires to put an end to Prop 215, because people using herbal cannabis don’t use as many pills and all those conspirators hate medical marijuana patients, including the evil GeorgeMonsantoSoros billionaire who saved Prop 215 back in 1996 and the Americans for Safe Access whose entire existence revolves round medical marijuana.
They’ll accomplish this by ending collective and cooperative gardens banned in most of the state, replacing them with commercial outlets and grows that will produce far more herbal cannabis and sell it for a much lower price. The cheaper weed gets, the more people will want to buy pills.
Also helping their bottom line is ending the need for a permission slip for herbal cannabis. Once those are no longer required, healthy adults will naturally want to eat more pills.
Then, allowing everyone to grow six plants indoors, even in the places where that’s currently banned, will help their sales of pills even more, of course!
Yup, once there are stores all over California selling herbal cannabis to anybody 21 or older at prices less than the $300/ounce the “compassionate” medical providers are offering, then Big Pharma can look forward to how California’s success will help roll out the same pill-selling incentives by improving the chances of legalization in the rest of the United States.
I hope Letitia Pepper is satisfied that I took the time to be clearer about the context of her using an infamous racial epithet to compare lynching to medical marijuana.