- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Candace Junkin says she’s just a retired bartender, a housewife, a mom living on a St. Inigoes farm.
She also happens to be cofounder of an international organization of women working to make marijuana legal for those with health concerns, and for those who might enjoy puffing.
“All I did was get my education, and read the studies,” Junkin said during a phone call last week. “Marijuana is not hurting people the way that alcohol and opiates and tobacco are hurting people in this country.”
She’s been an activist pushing for marijuana reform since about 2009, when she said her father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. After serving with another organization, with mothers working toward legalization of the drug, Junkin recently cofounded the International Women’s Cannabis Coalition.
The group, she said, has women working “all over the country,” and from England to the Philippines for reform.
The debate has become commonplace in the United States. Colorado and Washington state have legalized the drug. And much of New England, Mississippi, Alaska and at least 13 other states have said it’s not a criminal offense to use the drug for nonmedical purposes. Opposition also has been strong, including among some legislators in Maryland, where Junkin has a chapter of her IWCC organization.
“The harms of cannabis prohibition are so much greater than the harms of cannabis itself,” she said. Laws against the drug aren’t stopping use, but they are destroying lives, she said. “People are going to jail every day, suffering needlessly, having their children ripped away.” There’s job loss and racial bias attached to the criminalization of the drug, she said.
“A black man is so much more likely to go to jail for marijuana in his pocket than a white man,” Junkin said, echoing an October report produced by the American Civil Liberties Union, which said blacks are more likely, in every Maryland county, to be arrested for marijuana possession despite similar rates of usage among whites.
Arrests happen, lives are changed and disparities do exist, said Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s). But a lot of these problems would end if people stopped doing things that were illegal, he said.
Legalizing marijuana isn’t the answer, particularly in St. Mary’s County, and much of the Washington, D.C., area, he said.
“We are a community where a high percentage of folks hold security clearances,” Bohanan said. “I’ve worked with enough people who have, shall we say, dabbled. And it later came back to bite them. And I’ve seen a lot of people lose their jobs because of that.”
Looser laws wouldn’t mean that everyone — especially those with special work clearances — would be permitted to use the drug. “We are a community where too many people don’t need the additional temptation.” Outside of medicinal use, Bohanan said, “I’m not ready to support it.
“I feel absolutely certain we’re not going to legalize it, as they’ve done in some states. And it’s highly unlikely we’ll decriminalize it” during the current legislative session, he said, despite proponents for such measures in areas including Montgomery and Baltimore counties.
This year, the Maryland legislature is considering bills that could either make marijuana legal for people 21 and older, or decriminalize it and treat those caught with small amounts of the drug more like people caught speeding.
“We don’t support it here because we believe it’s going to pose a public safety issue,” said Capt. Daniel Alioto, who heads the narcotics division of the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office. “We’re thinking about the impact on our roadways, and our streets, and our young people,” he said.
There’s enough issues out there now.
“Are less people using it now because it’s illegal?” he asked. “Yeah.” If marijuana ever becomes legal, “more people are going to at least going to try it, use it, and be on the roadways.”
Maybe proponents of legalization will get what they want someday, Alioto said. “But I don’t know that all the statistics related to the states that have legalized marijuana are in. And I don’t know that anybody should be jumping to any conclusions about the legalization of marijuana.”
“It’s about responsible use,” Junkin said. Parents would need to talk to their kids about marijuana, the same way they should talk with them about other drugs or alcohol, she said. And government workers shouldn’t smoke a fistful of joints and go to work, the same way they “probably don’t want to be drinking a bottle of Jack [Daniel’s] every night, either.
“Marijuana is not this demon plant that everybody thinks it is,” Junkin said. She’ll keep pushing for an educational campaign, regulating legal sales of the drug, “and getting it off the black market.”
In Maryland, Junkin figures, “we’re a few election cycles away from legalization.” But, “I also think, in the next 10 years, we will see every state decriminalize or legalize marijuana.”