The nation’s oldest pot smokers’ lobby is ratcheting up the pressure on the federal government to end its ban on marijuana—and to reckon with the tragic consequences of that law.

In an open letter Monday, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)’s executive leadership called on Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), to end the federal prohibition on cannabis and “to publicly acknowledge that the perpetuation of the criminal enforcement of marijuana prohibition, as well as the stigmatization of those adults who use it responsibly, is far more detrimental to public health than is the behavior these policies are intended to discourage.”

“Will marijuana legalization and regulation alone fix over a century of systemic racism in America? No,” wrote NORML executive director Erik Altieri and NORML deputy director Paul Armentano. “But nonetheless we understand, all too well, the role that marijuana criminalization has played—and continues to play—in upholding the systemic racism that NIDA has now gone on record to condemn.”

The Blog Post That Started It

Altieri and Armentano were responding to a blog post published last week by Volkow, who wrote that “Whites and Black/African Americans use drugs at similar rates, but it is overwhelmingly the latter group who are singled out for arrest and incarceration.”

“This is a painful week in the United States as we again confront the systemic racism that has plagued our country since its founding,” Volkow wrote, referencing the massive demonstrations that have swept the nation and world in response to police violence, particularly against the Black community. “Listening to the conversation on racism taking place right now in response to the recent violent deaths of African Americans is critical, and I encourage readers to hear what Black/African Americans are saying about their experiences.”

Volkow added that “use of drug use and addiction as a lever to suppress people of a particular race has had devastating effects on communities of color.”

In response, Altieri and Armentano urged Volkow to take her “sentiments to their logical conclusion and to demand an end to marijuana prohibition.”

Introduce Yourself: Name, Company, Goals