Discussion about just how Michael Brown died was revived this week after a new gunshot residue analysis and autopsy leaked to the press provided more information about the crime scene. But a psychiatrist who was honored last year by the White House and serves on the board of a prominent anti-marijuana group seized instead on the full results of the toxicology report to argue there is another contributing cause of Brown’s death: marijuana.
In a blog post that was publicized on the Facebook page of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (Project SAM) and deleted only after a Twitter backlash, Dr. Christian Thurstone argues that because the toxicology report confirms the presence of marijuana above the legal impairment limit, “Brown’s death also should serve as a tragic reminder that marijuana is not harmless, that it is not just like alcohol or ‘safer than alcohol,’ that its consumption often leads to impairment that is very difficult for the public to measure — also making it tough for the public to hold users accountable for the harm they’ve caused others. Marijuana users also could be vulnerable to aggression and attacks while under the drug’s influence.”
Project SAM is perhaps the most prominent anti-marijuana organization. It takes a moderate position in the scheme of anti-drug organizations that calls for “a middle road between incarceration and legalization,” as compared to more fringe groups like Save Our Society From Drugs. But it has been at the forefront of opposing legalization initiatives, and even a federal initiative to protect medical marijuana distributors that are legal under state law, with former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D) as its spokesperson. It states that its members “believe in an approach that neither legalizes, nor demonizes, marijuana,” which is probably why, hours after promoting Thurstone’s post, the organization took it down, as its leader Kevin Sabet said only on Twitter: We deleted the controversial posting, but many people still retweeting to spread the misinformation. Wish I could say I was surprised. It's incredible how marijuana advocates go for personal jabs rather than discuss substance."
Thurstone is a board member on SAM, although the Michael Brown post now includes a disclaimer stating that the post represents his views alone and not “the views of any organizations with which he is affiliated.”
But Thurstone has made himself something of a public figure in his own right. In 2013, he was named an “Advocate for Action” by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy. In that role, he wrote blog posts published by on the ONDCP site.
And in the media, he has made a campaign out of flagging the potential harm of marijuana on adolescents. Thurstone makes reasonable arguments that marijuana can be addictive in teens, and that use of marijuana among adolescents is increasing. But Thurstone does nothing in his latest post to explain the link between those claims, and his conclusion that Brown’s death had anything to do with marijuana. In fact, he seems to say that pot could have made Brown more violent or less violent, but that either way, it must have done something.
Thurstone’s argument glosses over the clear racial components of Brown’s death, and bolsters the character assassination that has become common in cases where young black teens have been killed. Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Sean Bell, and several other young black victims have been blamed for alleged use of marijuana or alcohol before their deaths, even though it has nothing to do with whether they should have died.
Tom Angell of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority called SAM’s promotion of Thurstone’s comments a sign of “desperation,” saying in a statement to ThinkProgress, “Kevin Sabet and Project SAM have made a concerted effort to reach out to people of color in an effort to defend prohibition despite the clear racially disproportionate impact of its enforcement. I don’t think these offensive comments about Michael Brown are going to aid that effort.”
Also Thursday, the Washington, D.C. branches of the NAACP and National Organization of Women endorsed Washington’s ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. Local NAACP chapters also supported the initiatives in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. And the national chapter endorsed a federal marijuana reform bill.
By Nicole Flatow - Think Progress.org/Oct. 23, 2014
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