By Jag Davies
Never before has the ground been more fertile for a shift in national and international drug policies.
As detailed in the Drug Policy Alliance’s latest Annual Report, the drug policy reform movement is fast maturing. Even as we step up our attacks on drug war policies, we increasingly find ourselves working with people in government, at local, state, federal and international levels – not because we’ve compromised on our principles, but because the mainstream is heading in our direction.
One of our top priorities is ending marijuana prohibition, while ensuring responsible and inclusive legal regulation – and 2016 is shaping up to be the most significant year yet on this front. Even as we work to implement legalization in several states, we’re making tremendous progress laying the groundwork for legalization initiatives likely on the ballot in California, Nevada, Arizona, Maine and Massachusetts, not to mention medical marijuana initiatives in Florida, Arkansas, Ohio and Missouri. We’re also playing a pivotal role in Congress on the historic CARERS Act, a sweeping reform bill that would end federal interference with state medical marijuana laws, ease restrictions on medical research, and enable banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses.
And much of the most exciting marijuana news is coming from elsewhere in the hemisphere. Jamaica recently enacted sweeping reforms that decriminalized marijuana possession and created protections for religious, scientific and medical uses. In Canada, new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to legalize marijuana. In Mexico, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in October that could pave the way for legalization. None of this would be happening, of course, if not for our successful efforts to make marijuana legal in the U.S.
When it comes to tackling the broader drug war and mass incarceration, DPA has been at the forefront of many, perhaps most, of the major reforms over the last two decades. In New Jersey, we recently led the first-of-its-kind, hard-fought battle to reform its broken bail system, where 75% of the 15,000 people in its jails were awaiting trial rather than serving a sentence. In New Mexico and Florida, meanwhile, we recently led successful efforts to pass far-reaching civil asset forfeiture reforms so that law enforcement can no longer confiscate someone’s property without convicting them of a crime.
We’re leading efforts, meanwhile, to initiate and implement Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs in several cities across the country such as Santa Fe, NM, Albany, NY and San Francisco, CA. This is a major step toward our goal of ending arrests and criminal penalties for drug use and possession.
And when it comes to promoting harm reduction and health-based drug policies, it’s clear that a nationwide movement is finally emerging. DPA has taken the lead in addressing the urgent crisis of overdose deaths, which recently surpassed auto accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. We’re finally breaking through in states all over the country, passing 911 Good Samaritan laws and reforms to make the overdose antidote naloxone more accessible, while building support for once-taboo approaches like syringe access programs and supervised injection facilities.
More and more policymakers and elected officials are realizing that for the sake of our safety and health – and their careers – it makes sense to reduce the role of criminalization in drug policy.
While recent rhetorical and policy shifts among elected officials and policymakers are encouraging, they are still far too timid and modest.
This is why we each need to be agents of change. We lead, so that elected officials may follow – that is the nature of movements for individual freedom and justice. How well we do it, not what our leaders initiate, will determine the pace and scope of change.
The shift in public opinion toward our principles is now accelerating. Yet the assault on American citizens and others continues, with 700,000 people still arrested for marijuana offenses each year and almost 500,000 people still behind bars in the U.S. for nothing more than a drug law violation.
The end of the tragic war on drugs is within our grasp. But we must reach for it together – and strike this year while the iron’s hot.
Jag Davies is the director of communications strategy for the Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.org)
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Author: Jag Davies
Date Published: May 13, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance
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