The Responsible Marijuana Project wants Seattle leaders to read this book.
First there were the "Free Marijuana" handbills plastered around town. Now there's a campaign


Responsible Marijuana Project Pushes Book Club for Mayor McGinn and Seattle's Leaders

The Responsible Marijuana Project wants Seattle leaders to read this book.
First there were the "Free Marijuana" handbills plastered around town. Now there's a campaign to create a book club for Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, Police Chief John Diaz, City Attorney Pete Holmes and U.S. District Attorney Jenny Durkan. But while the ideas coming out of Seattle's Responsible Marijuana Project might feel like publicity stunts (because they kind of are), there's also a real social-justice backbone behind the group's endeavors.

"We're pretty frustrated with the cannabis community and the fact they're just not bringing up the racial discrimination aspects of marijuana laws," says Responsible Marijuana Project founder Jared Smith. "Right now the majority of the cannabis groups are just flat out ignoring it. In my personal opinion, it's the most potent argument we have."

In that spirit, the Responsible Marijuana Project's latest ingenious effort was launched - designed to get Seattle's leaders (the aforementioned group of McGinn, Diaz, Holmes and Durkan) to read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander - a book that deals with the racism of America's criminal justice system and the toll it takes on communities of color. The prohibition of marijuana, and the number of African American men who have been incarcerated because of it, plays heavily into these injustices.

The book club's a stunt, sure, but it's a stunt with purpose.

On the group's website, the Responsible Marijuana Project, which Smith says consists of a total of three people and is powered by the man-hours he puts into the cause when he's not working his SoDo warehouse job, describes the ideas behind this effort:

"The purpose of this book club is to open a discussion among Seattle's community leaders about the racial disparity in our judicial system," it reads. "The New Jim Crow is a book written by Michelle Alexander. It outlines how our judicial system has become the new mechanism for creating a second class of citizens. [Responsible Marijuana Project] would like members of the book club to read and discuss the information contained in the book to help make sure that the city of Seattle can work toward a more just and fair judicial system."

On Monday Smith says he delivered copies of The New Jim Crow to each of the invited members of the proposed book club. Now, according to Smith, hopefully these leaders actually read it. But there's more to the club than just that. In addition to reading The New Jim Crow, Responsible Marijuana Project has named McGinn the would-be club's leader, and has asked each member to write short book reports on specific chapters of the work. For instance, McGinn has been assigned the chapter "The Cruel Hand and The New Jim Crow," while Durkan has been asked to pound out a report on "The Lockdown and The Color of Justice."

Will any of this actually happen?

"Not unless you help us out," says Smith, fully acknowledging that a stunt like this is based on the press it generates, and, more important, the discussion it hopefully inspires.

McGinn Press Secretary Aaron Pickus confirms the mayor received his copy of the book on Tuesday. While he offers no comment specific to the proposed book club, Pickus says a response McGinn penned to a letter written to him by the Responsible Marijuana Project last year does a good job describing where the mayor stands on the impacts of marijuana prohibition.

"Verifiable numbers for Washington state are not available, but a recent study of California shows that people of color are arrested and incarcerated for marijuana offenses at rates much higher than whites. Studies also indicate that whites are involved in the use and distribution of marijuana at much higher rates than people of color," McGinn writes. "That's a problem, and I recognize it."

While the Responsible Marijuana Project appreciates the sentiment, and appreciates McGinn's endorsement of Initiative 502 (which, if approved in November, would legalize marijuana in the state), the group says it's time to "accelerate the conversation."

"We want to send a message to the people in power," says Smith of the Responsible Marijuana Project's latest effort, designed, at least in part, to push the envelope past simply recognizing the problem. "We want to send a message that you can't continue to ignore [the injustices of current marijuana laws]."

Or what?

"Or they'll get fired," says Smith.

Class is in session.

UPDATE: Kimberly Mills, communications director for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, sent this note this morning regarding The New Jim Crow and the Responsible Marijuana Project's proposed book club:

"Pete read The New Jim Crow earlier this year and has been talking about it to everyone he can buttonhole," writes Mills. "At CAO's State of the Office in March, he used the book to highlight the harm to communities of color caused by a failed drug policy based upon prohibition. CAO will be pleased to have another copy of the book, though, as our Criminal Division continues to work to reduce that harm in our own court system."

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