BY RUTH HILL R.N.
Imagine sitting in a cell for years or even life convicted for something that is no longer a crime while politicians (Boehner) are getting rich doing exactly the same thing. According to Last Prisoner Project 15.7 Million people were arrested for marijuana offenses in the last decade. Annually over $47 Billion has been spent on the war on drugs. Legal marijuana industry sales for 2018 in the US is $10 Billion. There’s an oxymoron in there somewhere. The BBC notes: “Handcuffed people cannot cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, sinks [in prisons and jails] often lack soap, and hand sanitizer is considered contraband due to its alcohol content.”
U.S. prisons are hotbeds for COVID-19. Overcrowding, poor nutrition, toxic stress, and an aging prison population put incarcerated individuals at exceptionally high risk. A 2016 report from the Brennan Center for Justice concluded that nearly 40 percent of imprisoned Americans are behind bars with no compelling public safety reason all to combat the war on drugs. As of Saturday, at least 132 inmates and 104 staff at jails across New York City had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the Chinese coronavirus.
Governor Andrew Cuomo exploits prison labor at 10-33 cents/hr. for a six-hour day to make hand sanitizer (NYS Clean) for distribution to NY government agencies. The Governor lifts a finger to Mr. Purell, Mr. Amazon and Mr. eBay who are price gouging. NYS Clean is superior at 75% alcohol vs. the CDC recommendations of 60%. The prisoners are prohibited from using it themselves due to the alcohol content.
Cannabis prohibition is making a terrible situation even worse. The pandemic has magnified the damage wrought by U.S. drug policy. My article in last weeks CV Weekly explained how there is no scientific evidence of cannabis mitigating virus infections. That article also talked about the cytokine storm that occurs with infections. Federal prohibition prevents research and the media languishes in misinformation. It’s easy to latch on to rumors when frightened with an infection that leaves you in a terminal state. We in California are fortunate to have the best advocates as many states do not consider dispensaries an essential service.
Dispensaries are not able to use banking services, so cash is king putting frontline dispensary staff, other industry workers, and state tax collectors at risk. Handling cash can be dangerous during the pandemic. The New England Journal of Medicine did research that demonstrates the corona virus “is stable for several hours to days in aerosols and on surfaces.”
There is a call for nurses to come out of retirement however will the government or the State Boards of Nursing waive the drug testing. Trump is challenging private companies to devise new ways to streamline supply chains. There is not a single automobile being manufactured in America today. This has not happened since the 1940’s. They are all being converted into health products. The Mercedes team at the University College London took four days to initiate manufacturing a CPAP devise that can convert into a ventilator. Wow. There is a silver lining.
Follow the CDC guidelines for separation, washing hands with soap and water, cleaning down surfaces and lastly sign the petition on the https://www.lastprisonerproject.org/ website.
We need to urge the President and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to: take the necessary steps to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus on our incarcerated communities; identify people who are scheduled to be released from prison or jail in the next six months and release them into home confinement; suspend copays for medical visits made by incarcerated persons; and finally release all cannabis prisoners. No one incarcerated for a victimless cannabis offense should continue to be incarcerated today. Now is the time to free our cannabis prisoners and further reduce the risk of outbreaks in correctional facilities. Prison health is public health.
Contact Ruth Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions comments.