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By Lynne Lyman

I just had to share what an amazing event I attended last week in Washington, DC. It felt like a real turning point in the broader public debate on the war on drugs, and I left DC, heading in to Independence Day feeling proud to be an American.

From Left: Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus, DPA’s California state director, Lynne Lyman, Senator Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), Assemblyman Reggie Jones Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), Troy Vaughn–COO SHIELDS for Families and LARRP Chair, Jose Rodriguez—LA City Council Office Gil Cedillo, and LAPD Deputy Chief Bill Scott at the LEAD opening reception at the Palomar Hotel, Washington, D.C.

Last week, government officials and community leaders from more than 30 city, county and state jurisdictions gathered at the White House to discuss an innovative program that brings together diverse stakeholders seeking to achieve better outcomes in public health and public safety by diverting people from arrest directly into services.

The program, known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, was pioneered in Seattle. Under LEAD, police divert individuals who commit low-level drug offenses to harm reduction based case management services. An independent evaluation found that it reduced the likelihood of reoffending by nearly 60 percent compared to a control group that went through the criminal justice system “as usual.”

LEAD’s successes and positive evaluations have sparked widespread attention and interest, especially in a moment when the police role in dealing with “quality of life” issues is controversial and the way forward after the war on drugs is uncertain.

From Left: Camilo Cruz, Director of Community Justice Initiative, LA City Attorney; Bill Scott, LAPD Deputy Chief, South Bureau; Lynne Lyman, DPA’s California state director; Mary Clare Molidor, Chief Assistant City Attorney, LA City Attorney; Jose Rodriguez, LA City Council Office of Gil Cedillo; Assemblyman Reggie Jones Sawyer (D-Los Angeles); and Wesley Ford, Director, Substance Abuse Prevention and Control, County of Los Angeles – Department of Public Health

Powerful remarks on the opening panel from our executive director, Ethan Nadelmann, and Executive Director of the National Black Police Association Ron Hampton, kicked us off with a bang, and perfectly grounded the issues we spent the next day digging into.

What struck me most sitting in session after session at the White House was the realization of how far this debate has shifted. Prosecutor after police chief got up and gave calls to action from the podium to stop the ineffective and harmful practice of arresting and incarcerating people for low level drug offenses.

Every single one of them acknowledged the racial disparities and institutional racism of their own organizations and the system at large. Harm Reduction rolled off their tongues again and again, and no one rolled their eyes! In those sessions, “abstinence” became the dirty word.

And when a sitting judge said, “drug courts’ time has come to an end,” I, and others, broke out into spontaneous applause and the rest of the room joined in.

A great day @WhiteHouse National LEAD Convening w/my colleagues @DPANewMexico & @billjpiper. pic.twitter.com/w9JVFXg73A

— gabriel sayegh (@_gabrielsayegh) July 2, 2015

I recall Ethan’s words that we are trying to move the debate along the continuum away from one of total prohibition, and realized I was actively experiencing that occurring. To be sitting inside the White House, the epicenter of mass incarceration and the war on drugs, listening to top White House staff condemn those policies was almost surreal.

The conversation was not if and when, but how.

Lynne Lyman is the California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Lynne Lyman
Date Published: July 7, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Via:: Ddrug Policy Alliance