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The Evolutionary Perspective
Daily Archives: July 10, 2021
Posted: July 10, 2021 at 3:46 am
Criminal justice reform and racial equity have emerged as the central issues in the national conversation around cannabis policy. As states pass cannabis reform laws, modify their existing laws, and as Congress engages the issue in a more comprehensive way, efforts to reverse the War on Drugs and its effects have expanded significantly. In the Democratic Party, that conversation has been transformational, as police reform, racial justice, opportunity, equity and equality, and decarceration have become top-tier issues.
As the Biden administration deals with a variety of crises at home and abroad, the coalition of voters who brought him to officeliberals and progressives, people of color, women, young people, college-educated voters, and urban votershave demanded the president do more on issues of race. Despite commitments to take on those issues, President Biden has distanced himself from full-scale, federal cannabis reforman issue many voters see as inherently connected to race and justice. That difference of opinion on cannabis could induce significant skepticism among some voters as to the presidents seriousness of taking on race.
Committing to federal cannabis legalization would align the president with the more than two-thirds of Americans (and about 80% of Democratic voters); however, that is currently not part of the Biden agenda. This paper lays out a series of unilateral policy actions the Biden administration can take to advance the causes of justice and equity and help reverse some of the disastrous effects of the War on Drugs.
Connecting cannabis to issues of race and justice is not difficult. Despite usage rates between whites and non-whites being at parity, people of color are much more likely to be arrested for a cannabis-related offense. A 2020 report from the ACLU shows that Black Americans are 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for a cannabis-related offense than white Americans. Those racial disparities are meaningful on their own but are particularly alarming in the context of how many drug arrests occur each year. Between 2018 and 2019, for example, data compiled by the FBI show that there were more than 1.2 million cannabis arrests across the United States.
And while in states where cannabis has been legalized, there have been significant drops in the number of cannabis arrests, racial disparities in arrest rates endure. Per the ACLU, among states that legalized by 2018, Black Americans were 2.2 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis in 2010, and that figure only dropped to 1.72 times in 2018. While legalization significantly reduces the magnitude of cannabis arrests, racial disparities in cannabis enforcement are institutionalized and affect every state.
The racialization of cannabis enforcement was not accidental. The entire foundation of the War on Drugs was built on racial resentment and outgroup targeting by the government. In my 2020 book Marijuana: A Short History, I trace the history of federal and state efforts to outlaw cannabis as a means of dividing white Americans from racial and political minorities and to remove people of color from society via incarceration. In her groundbreaking 2012 book The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander describes how the use of mass incarceration that disproportionately impacts people of color in the United States has been used to dilute voting rights, economic achievement, wealth building, and educational attainment. And work by my Brookings Institution colleagues, including Andre Perry, has examined the connection between the criminal justice system in the United States and concepts of economic inequity, including the racial wealth gap.
Cannabis policy in the United States was designed and has been implemented to harm communities of color for generations, and given that intent, it has been a wildly successful policy endeavor. However, many Americans and people from both sides of the political divide see drug policy broadly and cannabis policy specifically for what it is, and that has led to a decades-long effort to step away from drug prohibition and criminalization and find a different policy path forward. In todays policy conversations, that path typically centers on cannabis reform.
Since the early 1990s, support for cannabis legalization has changed dramatically. According to Gallup, in 1992 fewer than 1 in 4 Americans believed legalizing cannabis was a good idea. By 2012, the poll showed nearly half of Americans did. And the most recent polling from Gallup shows that more than 2 out of every 3 Americans now support cannabis legalization. And with the rise of Black Lives Matter and other racial justice movements in the U.S., capped off by months of protests in the summer of 2020 in the wake of George Floyds murder, more Americansespecially white Americansare opening their eyes to what Black and brown Americans have known for centuries: The criminal justice system is systemically racist.
More than 2 out of every 3 Americans now support cannabis legalization.
We also know that when an individual is convicted of a crime, that conviction and criminal record follows him or her around for life. That record can mean missed opportunities for education, employment, promotions, wealth formation, social interactions and networking, home ownership or other access to housing, and more.
Although a criminal conviction occurs on one day in a persons life, its impact is felt for the remainder of ones days.
As a result, the problems an individual faces compound as each foregone opportunity will be affected by both the conviction and other foregone opportunities. Although a criminal conviction occurs on one day in a persons life, its impact is felt for the remainder of ones days.
The enduring impact is felt disproportionately among younger Americans, males, and Americans of colorand the intersection of all three. Research by Holly Nguyen and Peter Reuter demonstrates that even when controlling for use, 15-19 year-olds and 20-29 year-olds are significantly more likely than Americans over 30 to be arrested for a cannabis offense. Men are significantly more likely than woman to face such an arrest, and finally, controlling for use, Black men and particularly Black men under the age of 30 are significantly more likely than other groups to face a cannabis arresta disparity that has increased in the 21st century. Because these charges are more likely to impact people before the age of 30, the lingering effects of that arrest affects a significant period of that persons life, reducing even more opportunities over time.
And the impact of criminal convictions, especially geographically and demographically concentrated convictions, has a horizontal impact on communities. Those convictions impact more than just the people who are arrested. They impact families in direct and indirect ways; incarceration can create struggles and strife in social networks and neighborhood relations. Overcriminalization and mass incarceration becomes a scourge to communities that spreads throughout its fabric and has enduring intergenerational impacts.
Because of this history and contemporary reality, no serious conversation about criminal justice reform, racial justice, and opportunity can be had without a serious reconsideration of our nations drug laws. And that conversation has been obvious not simply with state-level ballot initiatives, but even in presidential politics. In 2016, both major party presidential candidates publicly supported some form of cannabis reform for the first time in American history. In the 2020 Democratic primary, most candidates powerfully embraced full-scale legalization, including the current Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris. Even President Biden, as a candidate, endorsed the legalization of medical cannabis, and famously stated, Nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana.
However, Joe Biden was the only top-tier 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to eschew full scale legalization. And looking at the first six months of his administration, it appears that he has not changed his mind. Although he has placed cannabis reform supporters into his administration including Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the White House position has not changed.
Might the president flip on this issue in the way President Obama switched his position to embrace marriage equality? That is possible. Like on the issue of marriage equality, much of the country and a large percentage of Democrats already support the idea of cannabis reform. However, President Bidens background and the obvious political opportunity he has already had to align himself with a supermajority of Americans on this issue make it unlikely that change will happen.
So, if full scale legalization is not going to be part of the presidents agenda for at least the next three and a half years, is there any chance to address some of the issues related to cannabis and race? Absolutely. The remainder of this paper lays out a five-point plan that the administration can implement unilaterally to improve opportunity, equity, and justice even for a president who opposes full-scale federal legalization.
1) A powerful national apology for the War on Drugs
Americans who are demanding justice are also demanding action, and the Biden administration must act in a variety of ways to meet the expectations of those who voted for him and those who did not. However, there is also an important role for moral leadership in the drug policy conversation. Mr. Biden should issue a presidential proclamation that apologizes for the War on Drugs and the U.S. governments role in perpetrating it at home and around the world. This proclamation should include a recognition that racism and other forms of bias served as the foundation for the War on Drugs and that systemic racism became and remains a central part of its enforcement.
This proclamation will be about more than just cannabis offenses, as the War on Drugs expanded far beyond that substance. We know that racial biases in drug enforcement are not unique to cannabis. And it is clear there are biases throughout the criminal justice system regarding how defendants of color are treated relative to their white peers.
At the same time, a proclamation of this nature should be personal one. As a senator, Mr. Biden played a significant role in maintaining, funding, and expanding the War on Drugs in a variety of ways. While he has publicly discussed his own regrets about participation in some efforts, such as drafting the 1994 Crime Bill, he has not done so in a significant way as president. His history on these issues would make a formal apology-by-proclamation all that more powerful, as he apologizes on behalf of the nation, the government, the elected officials who for more than a century propelled such as a system, and for himself and his role in it.
2) A presidential commission to study federal legalization
One challenge many opponents or skeptics of legalization have is that they lack a thorough understanding of the broader issue of cannabis, the extent of the harms prohibition has had on specific communities, and the impact of legalization in the states that have reformed their laws. While for many cannabis reform supporters, the idea of a presidential commission may be unappealing, there are a several reasons why it could be beneficial.
First, if President Biden is truly a legalization skeptic, reform supporters who believe the choice to legalize is a no-brainer should embrace the opportunity for the president to be more deeply informed. If they are confident that a full explication of the pros and cons of cannabis reform will push people in their direction, President Biden can serve as a very important audience of one. His obvious discomfort in discussing the issue on the campaign trail in 2019 and 2020 likely shows that he has not fully studied the issue. A presidential commission can help fix that knowledge gap.
Second, such a commission would be historic in nature. Previous presidential commissions on cannabis specifically or drug policy broadly often recommended the government reform its laws in some manner, but ultimately fell on deaf ears from the presidents who commissioned them. A president who is more open to the true findings of a report could transform the governments approach to the issue more broadly.
Third, a commission of this kind would naturally be bipartisan in nature, a quality Mr. Biden has already demonstrated he wants to see in policy making. Democrats and Republicans have united around the idea that drug prohibition is a failed policy and some other alternative must be the way forward. That bipartisan agreement extends from the grassroots of everyday American voters to state legislatures to governors mansions to the United States Congress. Although some may disagree on exactly what a post-prohibition world would and should look like, the point of a commission is to work through those precise questions and find common ground.
Finally, federal legalization will not be easy. It will not function as a simple on or off switchjust ask any state official in a jurisdiction that has taken that step. There will need to be extensive conversations and hundreds of decisions made as to the details of federal cannabis legalization. It is an area of policy that will affect agriculture, trade, transportation, taxation, criminal justice, the environment, small business funding, banking, international relations, labor policy, and much more. The federal government has not taken a serious stepin the executive or legislative branchestoward working through the complexities of what legalization would take. One can look at the challenges faced by the agriculture department in legalizing hemp (without first doing sufficient planning work) to understand what cannabis could face. It is critical that such advance work is done before legalization comes to fruition, and a presidential commission can achieve exactly that.
3) A joint pardon ceremony between the White House and governors
An important part of the cannabis reform conversation engages restorative justice. Some states that have reformed their cannabis laws have built restorative justice provisions into the law, through the ability for those with low-level cannabis convictions to petition for their records to be expunged, automatic expungement to occur, or for governors to use the pardon power to advance that cause.
Expungement is a critical first step in helping right some of the wrongs from the War on Drugs, particularly for the geographic and demographic communities that were targeted. Many national cannabis reform organizations have called on President Biden to use the pardon power to achieve just that. And while that effort is an important one, it is incomplete. The vast majority of cannabis arrests happen at the state or local levelnot the federal level. Typically, most federal cannabis arrests are for much more serious crimes such as trafficking, and not for the low-level offenses often targeted through restorative justice efforts.
For example, in 2019 while there were 545,000 cannabis offenses charged in the United States, the federal government was involved in a fraction of them. That year the FBI charged only 5,350 individuals with a top-line charge for any drug offensenot just cannabis. For the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2019, that number was 1,109. Yes, over the course of decades there will be some number of individuals who would qualify for a pardon of low-level, federal cannabis charges. However, the reality is that the FBI is not arresting people for only having a joint; those charges are most often transferred to and handled by state and local law enforcement.
The optics of a presidential pardon ceremony for federal, low-level cannabis offenders would be a powerful one; however, President Biden can make that image more powerful and the policy more impactful by coordinating with governors to do the same. Because criminal justice reform has bipartisan support throughout the country, the president could likely find multiple governors from both parties who wield the pardon power and are willing to use it to recognize and deal with the war on cannabis.1
This effort would have the potential to impact hundreds of thousands more individuals than the president could alone. Such a ceremony would also signal the importance of intergovernmental cooperation and leadership on issues of restorative justice. As I have written elsewhere, on a technical and implementation note, the pandemic has normalized the coordination of events remotely, which would be necessary as many governors are constitutionally prohibited from exercising executive powers outside of the state borders. Thus, a Zoom-type meeting with President Biden in the Oval Office and governors in their respective statehouses all working to help people start their lives fresh without the burden of a past cannabis conviction would significantly advance the cause of justice.
4) Expand funding to improve state capacity around restorative justice
As restorative justice programs have advanced in states and cities around the country, advocates and government officials are encountering a common challenge. Not every state record keeping system is ready for restorative justice efforts. Many criminal conviction records, especially ones from decades in the past, are not digitized and in jurisdictions where record expungement is intended to be automatic or where those convicted must petition for their expungement, the process can be slowed dramatically by a paper records system.
Illinois provides an important case study for this challenge. When the state legalized cannabis in 2019, part of the new law included an automatic expungement provision for low-level, non-violent cannabis offenders, and Governor J.B. Pritzker was committed to using his pardon power as needed. The officials implementing these provisions recognized the paper-based system for criminal conviction record keeping presented an enormous burden. Some jurisdictions, like Chicagos Cook County, teamed up with private firms like Code for America to successfully digitize and make searchable these records.
The state of Illinois and Cook County are not alone. Many jurisdictions around the country face this challenge, and it is one that is likely to bubble to the surface when a broad effort toward implementing restorative justice takes place.
To ameliorate this challenge and bring the record-keeping aspect of the criminal justice system into the 21st century, the president should call on Congress to create a funding program that will help subsidize jurisdictions efforts to digitize their records. That funding could be fully covered by federal monies or it could be used as seed money to partner with private organizations and companies committed to restorative justice and racial equity. Provisions could be included in such a program that makes restorative justice efforts part of the criteria for receiving the funding. Such funding could be structured so that a jurisdiction could apply for a portion of a digitization effort to be subsidized, but that the complete cost would be covered by federal funds if the jurisdiction passes legislation, or the governor commits to restorative justice for low-level cannabis convictions.2
Finally, as my colleague Makada Henry-Nickie and I note elsewhere, any effort to digitize criminal justice records must also be done with the proper privacy and security protections to ensure that those records, prior to or after expungement cannot find their way to the public sphere. It is the obligation of the federal government to put standards in place by which state criminal justice agencies must implement in order to be eligible for the subsidization of record digitization. States across the country from Illinois to New York to recently legalized Virginia have put into effect programs that include record expungement, including automatic expungement. Each state has recognized that challenges both in terms of time and resources needed for those programs to maximum effect, particularly without broader guidance regarding best practices.
As in the Illinois case and as has happened with other states, such a record digitization program provides an opportunity to expand programming that teaches individuals digital skills. Such opportunities and training can be targeted to specific communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs, and in many cases engage with those individuals who will be directly impacted by record expungement. It provides an ideal setting to use a bureaucratic challenge as an opportunity to create multiple policy benefits to assist those who often times are cast aside by society.
5) A Superfund program to clean up the disaster of cannabis enforcement
One important aspect of cannabis reform and its connection to restorative justice and racial equity involves investment in communities. As states like Illinois, New York, and New Jersey have reformed their cannabis laws, they have put center stage the importance of reinvesting in the communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs. Even efforts in Congress such as Sen. Cory Bookers (D-N.J.) Marijuana Justice Act and the bicameral Marijuana, Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act seek to use funds to be targeted to communities that were harmed by the War on Drugs.
One important aspect of cannabis reform and its connection to restorative justice and racial equity involves investment in communities.
This effort is a critical one. As I mentioned above, cannabis enforcement, especially that which is geographically and demographically concentrated, creates an ongoing cycle of crises and reduced opportunities for those who are convicted. In many cases, even those who are arrested and not convicted still face institutionalized barriers to specific opportunities that compound over time. Record expungement is an important step in the right direction toward helping these individuals. However, as I often note, record expungement fixes one day in a persons lifethe day he or she is convicted of a crime; it does not fix all of the subsequent days in which economic, financial, social, and community hardships manifest.
At the same time, overcriminalization of cannabis that is concentrated in specific communities has broad impacts on individuals beyond those facing charges. That reality is paired with decades of government policies that were either designed with racist intent or had very demonstrable effects that left communities of color woefully underfunded, relative to white communities. That situation happens in every corner of the nation and endures today.
In order to reverse the effects of the War on Drugs, legalization and expungement are just parts of an ongoing community rehabilitation process that must be comprehensive in nature and targeted to areas facing the most need. In many ways, this mirrors environmental challenges in the 1970s.
Now, our communities are facing a significant crisis as a result of another historical, largely unchecked scourge: a systemically racist criminal justice system.
In the 1970s, the government recognized that some communities and sites within communities were facing significant environmental challenges due to years of neglect, and these issues were not easily fixed by residents or municipalities themselves. Now, our communities are facing a significant crisis as a result of another historical, largely unchecked scourge: a systemically racist criminal justice system.
I propose a system loosely modeled on the Superfund program for environmental cleanup to identify areas in need of assistance and then target site-specific resources to clean up the problem over a period of time. The Superfund program was created from a law passed in 1980 that charged EPA to conduct investigations into the illegal and harmful release of environmental hazards, often into land and water. An investigation would be launched that would seek to identify the presence and extent of an environmental hazard, seek to identify those responsible for the hazardous site (often, private entities), fine those responsible and use that funding to decontaminate an area. Effectively the program identified a place in which years or decades of bad behaviors and neglect led to significant public health and public safety problems.
In the context of drug policy, years of racially discriminatory and targeted enforcement has not created an environmental disaster, but a disaster of economic and physical infrastructure. And just like the rehabilitation the federal government understood was necessary for Superfund sites, so too should the administration recognize a need for rehabilitation in these targeted communities.
There exist other ideas at a smaller scale in states to identify such communities. As mentioned before Illinois legalization program sought to fund community reinvestment in what are called Disproportionately Impacted Areas. Those areas are ones in which the War on Drugs was waged the fiercest and were damaged. In previous work, Henry-Nickie and I argue that a program could be modeled similar to the Obama-era Opportunity Zones program that identified specific community needs and facilitated support via tax incentives accordingly.
I propose that the Justice Department, in conjunction with other relevant agencies, create a program to identify Drug War Affected Communities (DWACs) and designate them as such. A request for such designation can come from the Justice Department itself, state or local governments, community nonprofits, faith-based organizations, etc.
First, DWACs must be localized by census tract or a set of tracts, rather than designating entire cities, which may include neighborhoods that should be eligible and those that should not be eligible. Second, DWACs must demonstrate current and/or historical cannabis enforcement at significant levels. This provision recognizes that in states that legalize or decriminalize cannabis or in places where law enforcement leaders informally use enforcement discretion, current cannabis enforcement may have plummeted, but the damage was already done before those recent policy changes.
Third, DWACs must demonstrate systematic racial and/or ethnic disparities in arrest rates, relative to other communities or within the communities themselves. Fourth, DWACs must maintain significant populations of people of color and community demographics as they did during periods of racial disparities in enforcement. This provision is essential to account for gentrification that has happened in many major U.S. cities, dramatically transforming neighborhoods demographics in a relatively short period of time. The program must ensure that the communities most in need of such support are the ones getting it.
Once DWAC designation is granted, the community will be eligible for additional federal funding that will help rehabilitate the economy in a variety of ways. Unlike programs like Opportunity Zones that focused solely on tax incentives to spur investment, the DWAC program, like the Superfund program, would focus on direct funding to support communities or funding that can be used to match state and local program funding. The obvious challenge here involves identifying funding for such an effort. One step the administration should take is to charge the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) with identifying any federal program related to economic development, education, infrastructure, housing, workforce development, etc. in which agency discretion exists to adjust the criteria for eligibility. In every situation in which that discretion exists, the agency should use the administrative authority to include DWAC status as a criterion for initial eligibility and, if possible, for additional funding within the program.
This use of executive authority will be imperfect. Not every program includes statutory provisions that grant the type of flexibility necessary to expand eligibility in that way. However, there will be some subset of programs in which it is achievable, and in each case, funding could be diverted to begin addressing the harms of the War on Drugs. And although such an effort will not require congressional action, it will also not increase outlays for a program. Instead it will just adjust the manner in which funding is distributed.
Next, as Henry-Nickie and I propose in previous work, any community reinvestment funding should be targeted to the types of programs that will best serve an individual community. While the War on Drugs certainly affected cities in very similar ways, there are likely significantly varied needs from place to place. State and local policy, private investment, faith-based efforts, and other community-specific interventions can mean that certain communities may be more in need of workforce development and housing assistance funds, while another may see funding better spent on health care facilities and schools. Part of the DWAC designation request should also include a space for communities to advocate for themselves and design and prioritize the types of community development funding that will best serve their needs.
The worst modelother than doing nothingwould be for the federal government to believe a one size fits all model of development is the ideal. Both in practice and for community engagement, self-advocacy must be part of process toward rehabilitation from the War on Drugs. Just like with the Superfund program, each environmental hazard site had its own unique pollutants, challenges, community impacts, and needs. The investigations into those sites identified the most efficient ways to deal with those specific environmental and site-specific challenges. The DWAC program must also have that type of precision and flexibility.
The worst modelother than doing nothingwould be for the federal government to believe a one size fits all model of development is the ideal.
Next, the president should also task OMB with including an evaluation process to understand the efficacy of DWAC designations and the success of funding strategies over time. OMB should also make recommendations as to how best the program should be adjusted and improved to ensure long-term success. That focus on long-term success reflects the need for a long-term program. While this program seeks to reverse economic, education, and labor market challenges, it should not be seen as a short-term stimulus package like the multiple COVID relief packages that Congress passed in 2020 and 2021 or the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act that sought to pull the United States out of the Great Recession. Each of those were viewed as short-term stimulus programs intended to deal with an acute set of economic challenges. The DWAC program is seeking to assist with chronic, ongoing, institutionalized economic challenges. Just as the War on Drugs functioned as a decades-long wrecking ball on communities opportunity and chance of advancement, the solution to it must be conceptualized as an ongoing, long-term program. And in fact, similar to the Superfund program, some issues or communities may be able to rebound in an expedited way. However, many will take extended periods of time to clean up from the damage done in the past.
The Superfund program has its challenges and its critics, and does not serve as a perfect model for the DWAC program. The Superfund program faced funding challenges, especially in collecting fines from responsible parties. The DWAC program would face challenges in identifying responsible parties for whom funding could be extracted from, although Sen. Bookers Marijuana Justice Act sought to withhold funding from law enforcement agencies that did not correct racial disparities. The latter could not be done unilaterally by a president. Yet, the concept of the government consciously and purposefully identifying a policy disaster and use data and evidence to design a comprehensive, long-term, community-specific plan to make positive changes should guide the design of the DWAC program.
If implemented, the president should also ask Congress both to fund the DWAC program either through a general fund that could then be allocated to specific programs as is reflected by demand or as a program by program appropriation supplemental specifically for DWACs. The president should also ask Congress for agencies to be granted additional discretionary authority to adjust program eligibility specifically for the purposes of the DWAC program. In addition, but not as a substitute, the president could also ask Congress to create tax incentives similar to the Opportunity Zones program to spur targeted economic and community investments that works to reduce the harms of the drug war. However, direct funding is essential for this program to be successful. Surely, in a divided Congress, additional funding for programs that would target these communities as a direct denouncement of this countrys history of drug enforcement would be difficult. However, the tools the president currently has at his disposal should be combined with a genuine effort to advance the conversation around racial healing and empowerment in the wake of the War on Drugs.
While cannabis reform supporters will be disappointed by anything short of full-scale legalization, that is an unlikely goal with the current composition of Congress and Joe Biden as president. However, the five-part plan laid out above offers some immediate and long-term benefits that will even assist policymakers when federal cannabis legalization is realized.
First, the presidential proclamation, legalization study commission, and commitment to restorative justice and addressing the fallout of the drug war will show real moral leadership by a president on the issue of cannabisleadership that none of Mr. Bidens predecessors showed. That signaling and change in tone from an American president can have significant effects on the broader policy conversation across the country and also around the world. The United States was the leader in the march toward global drug prohibition and many countries are looking to America for a different path forward.
Second, the legalization study commission can help begin the onerous legal, regulatory, and intergovernmental task of reforming cannabis at the national level. It can help engage agencies on the precise issues they will need to deal with, identify potential challenges, consider how communication and coordination will need to happen at all levels of government. By putting even broad recommendations into the public sphere, it will make the job easier once legalization happens.
Third, the use of the bully pulpit to bring leaders together to exercise pardon powers to assist those who were targeted by the War on Drugs and whose lives and futures were upended by the possession of a small amount of cannabis is key to healing. Cannabis record expungement is popular, bipartisan, and has already been successful in multiple states without political or policy consequences. It, combined with efforts to improve criminal justice record digitization, also provides a more meaningful change than would be had by proposals that solely focus on a federal level endeavor.
Fourth, the use of executive authority the help redevelop Drug War Affected Communities is an essential aspect of helping those hurt most significantly by cannabis enforcement. It will help address generations of underinvestment in these communities that have contributed to cycles of poverty, violence, substandard housing, insufficient educational options, and community stagnation.
The use of executive authority the help redevelop Drug War Affected Communities is an essential aspect of helping those hurt most significantly by cannabis enforcement.
In the process it uses a community-specific program that assists those specifically harmed by mass incarceration, while appreciating that its effects reach far beyond the currently and formerly incarcerated.
Finally, the DWAC program will provide an existing policy infrastructure that is targeted to the at-need populations that can be supported with more significant funding post-legalization. When cannabis sales tax revenue begins flowing into the Treasury (an almost certain part of federal legalization), some portion of those monies can be used in a proven, effective program. The MORE Act calls for a federal cannabis tax and funding to be sent for community reinvestment. The best way to put that funding to work is that have an existing system to distribute it.
President Biden holds less reform-oriented views with regard to cannabis than most other Democrats. His failure to commit to passing federal legalization has left some inside and outside his party in Congress, in the public, and in the cannabis reform community disappointed. However, that position does not mean he cannot make specific cannabis policy changes that can have immediate results and lay the groundwork for more successful legalization policy down the road, especially in the context of racial equity and criminal justice reform.
Mr. Bidens voters, particularly members of the core Democratic base, expect him to do everything in his power to address the serious problems of racial bias and discrimination that plague this country. So, too, do millions of Americans who did not vote for Mr. Biden but who recognize systemic racism is a deeply rooted policy problem in the United States. As those issues have become a core part of the policy conversations in this country, they have also become central to discussions around cannabis. Cannabis reform presents a huge opportunity to help address the racial justice crisis in the United States. More needs to be done than simply reforming cannabis, but a serious racial justice conversation must include it.
Although the current White House is not focused on cannabis and sees it as more of a peripheral issue, nothing could be further from the truth. Cannabis enforcement and its decades of effects have significantly contributed to the issues we now face around race relations, mass incarceration, policing policy, and economic opportunity. A president who is serious about each of those issues must also be serious about cannabis.
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Posted: at 3:46 am
On September 23, 1987, first lady Nancy Reagan accepts on behalf of the Just Say No Club a check from the Proctor & Gamble company for $150,000, in Washington, D.C. (Mark Reinstein / Shutterstock)
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Fifty years ago, on June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon stood before the White House press corps, staffers at his side, to announce a new, all-out offensive against drug abuse, which he denounced as Americas public enemy number one. He called on Congress to contribute $350 million for a worldwide attack on the sources of supply. The first battle in this new drug war would be fought in South Vietnam where, Nixon said, a number of young Americans have become addicts as they serve abroad.
While the president was declaring his war on drugs, I was stepping off a trans-Pacific flight into the searing tropical heat of Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital, to report on the sources of supply for the drug abuse that was indeed sweeping through the ranks of American soldiers fighting this countrys war in Vietnam.
As I would soon discover, the situation was far worse than anything Nixon could have conveyed in his sparse words. Heroin vials littered the floors of Army barracks. Units legendary for their heroism in World War II like the 82nd Airborne were now known as the jumping junkies. A later survey found that more than a third of all GIs fighting the Vietnam War commonly used heroin. Desperate to defeat this invisible enemy, the White House was now about to throw millions of dollars at this overseas drug war, funding mass urinalysis screening for every homeward-bound GI and mandatory treatment for any who tested positive for drugs.
Even that formidable effort, however, couldnt defeat the murky politics of heroin, marked by a nexus of crime and official collusion that made mass drug abuse among GIs possible. After all, in the rugged mountains of nearby Laos, Air America, a company run by the CIA, was transporting opium harvested by tribal farmers who were also serving as soldiers in its secret army. The commander of the Royal Lao Army, a close ally, then operated the worlds largest illicit lab, turning raw opium into refined heroin for the growing numbers of GI users in neighboring Vietnam. Senior South Vietnamese commanders colluded in the smuggling and distribution of such drugs to GIs in bars, in barracks, and at firebases. In both Laos and South Vietnam, American embassies ignored the corruption of their local allies that was helping to fuel the traffic.
As sordid as Saigons heroin politics were, they would pale when compared to the cynical deals agreed to in Washington over the next 30 years that would turn the drug war of the Vietnam era into a political doomsday machine. Standing alongside the president on that day when Americas drug war officially began was John Erlichman, White House counsel and Nixon confidante.
As he would later bluntly tell a reporter,
The Nixon White House had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. We knew we couldnt make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.Current Issue
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And just in case anyone missed his point, Erlichman added, Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.
To grasp the full meaning of this admission, you need to begin with the basics: the drug wars absolute, unqualified, irredeemable failure. Just three pairs of statistics can convey the depth of that failure and the scope of the damage the war has done to American society over the past half-century:
Despite the drug wars efforts to cut supplies, worldwide illicit opium production rose tenfoldfrom 1,200 tons in 1971 to a record 10,300 tons in 2017.
Reflecting its emphasis on punishment over treatment, the number of people jailed for drug offenses would also grow tenfold, from 40,900 in 1980 to 430,900 in 2019.
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Finally, instead of reducing domestic use, the drug war actually helped stimulate a tenfold surge in the number of American heroin users from just 68,000 in 1970 to 745,000 in 2019.
In addition, the drug war has had a profound impact on American society by perpetuating, even institutionalizing, racial disparities through the raw power of the police and prisons. Remember that the Republican Party saw the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ended decades of Jim Crow disenfranchisement for Blacks in the Deep South, as a rare political opportunity. In response, Nixon and his men began developing a two-part strategy for winning over white voters in the South and blunting the Democratic advantage with Black voters nationwide.
First, in the 1970 midterm elections, the Republicans began pursuing a Southern strategy of courting disgruntled white supremacist voters in the South in a successful attempt to capture that entire region politically. Three years later, they launched a relentless expansion of the drug war, policing, and prisons. In the process, they paved the way for the mass incarceration of African Americans, denying them the vote not just as convicts but, in 15 states, for life as ex-convicts. Pioneering this cunning strategy was New Yorks Republican governor, Nelson Rockefeller. The harsh mandatory penalties of 15 years to life for petty drug possession he got the state legislature to pass raised the number of people imprisoned on drug charges from 470 in 1970 to 8,500 in 1999, 90 percent of them African American or Latinx.
Such mass incarceration moved voters from urban Democratic bailiwicks to rural prisons where they were counted in the census, but otherwise disenfranchised, giving a bit of additional help to the white Republican vote in upstate New Yorka winning strategy Republicans elsewhere would soon follow. Not only did the drug war let conservatives shave opposition vote tallies in close elections, but it also dehumanized African Americans, justifying repressive policing and mass incarceration.
None of this was pre-ordained but the result of a succession of political deals made during three presidenciesthat of Nixon, who started it; of Ronald Reagan, whose administration enacted draconian punishments for drug possession; and of the Democrat Bill Clinton, who expanded the police and prisons to enforce those very drug laws. After remaining remarkably constant at about 100 prisoners per 100,000 population for more than 50 years, the US incarceration rate started climbing relentlessly to 293 by the end of Reagans term in 1990 and 464 by the end of Clintons in 2000. It reached a peak of 760 by 2008with a racial bias that resulted in nothing less than the mass incarceration of African Americans.
While Nixon fought his war largely on foreign battlefields trying, and failing, to stop narcotics at their source, the next Republican president, Ronald Reagan, fully domesticated the drug war through ever harsher penalties for personal use and a publicity campaign that made abstinence a moral virtue and indulgence a fiercely punishable vice. Meanwhile, he also signaled clearly that he was determined to pursue Nixons Southern strategy by staging a major 1980 election campaign rally in Neshoba County, Miss., where three civil rights workers had previously been murdered.
Taking office in 1981, Reagan found, to his surprise, that reviving the drug war at home had little public support, largely because the outgoing Democratic administration had focused successfully on drug treatment rather than punishment. So, first lady Nancy Reagan began crisscrossing the country, while making TV appearances with choruses of cute kids wearing Just Say No T-shirts. Even after four years of the first ladys campaign and the simultaneous spread of crack cocaine and cocaine powder in cities and suburbs nationwide, only about 2 percent of the electorate felt that drug abuse was the nations number one problem.
Then personal tragedy provided Reagan with the perfect political opportunity. In June 1986, just a day after signing a multimillion-dollar contract with the NBAs Boston Celtics, college basketball sensation Len Bias collapsed in his dorm at the University of Maryland from a fatal cocaine overdose. Five months later, President Reagan would sign the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, aka the Len Bias Law. It would lead to a quantum expansion of the domestic drug war, including a mandatory minimum sentence of five years just for the possession of five grams of cocaine and a revived federal death penalty for traffickers.
It also put into law a racial bias in imprisonment that would prove staggering: a 100:1 sentencing disparity between those convicted of possessing crack-cocaine (used mainly by inner-city Blacks) and those using cocaine powder (favored by suburban whites)even though there was no medical difference between the two drugs. To enforce such tough penalties, the law also expanded the federal anti-drug budget to a massive $6.5 billion.
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In signing that law, Reagan would pay special tribute to the first lady, calling her the co-captain in our crusade for a drug-free America and the fight against the purveyors of this evil. And the two of them had much to take credit for. After all, by 1989, an overwhelming 64 percent of Americans had come to feel that drugs were the nations number one problem. Meanwhile, thanks largely to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, Americans jailed for nonviolent drug offenses soared from 50,000 in 1980 to 400,000 in 1997. Driven by drug arrests, in 1995 nearly one-third of all African American males between 20 and 29 would either be in prison or on parole.
If those two Republican presidents were adept at portraying partisan anti-drug policies as moral imperatives, their Democratic successor, Bill Clinton, proved adept at getting himself reelected by picking up their seductive rhetoric. Under his administration, a racialized drug policy, with its disenfranchisement and denigration of African Americans, would become fully bipartisan.
In 1992, two years after being elected president, Clinton lost control of Congress to Republican conservatives led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Desperate for something he could call a legislative accomplishment, he tacked hard right to support the Violent Crime Control Act of 1994. It would prove the largest law-enforcement initiative in American history: nearly $19 billion dollars for 100,000 new cops to sweep the streets for drug offenders and a massive prison-expansion program to house those who would now be sentenced to life after three criminal convictions (three strikes).
A year later, when the non-partisan US Sentencing Commission recommended that the 100:1 disparity in penalties for crack-cocaine and cocaine powder be abolished, along with its blatant racial bias, Clinton flatly rejected the advice, signing instead Republican-sponsored legislation that maintained those penalties. I am not, he insisted, going to let anyone who peddles drugs get the idea that the cost of doing business is going down.
The countrys Black political leaders were eloquent in their condemnation of this political betrayal. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, a former Democratic presidential candidate, claimed Clinton knew perfectly well that crack is code for black and labelled the presidents decision a moral disgrace by a man willing to sacrifice young black youth for white fear. The Congressional Black Caucus would similarly denounce the sentencing disparity as a mockery of justice.
As they predicted all too accurately, the relentless rise of Black incarceration only accelerated. In the five years following passage of Clintons omnibus crime bill, the country added 204 prisons and its inmate population shot up by a mind-boggling 28 percent to 1,305,300. Of those, nearly half (587,300) were Black, though African Americans made up only 13 percent of the countrys population.
Facing a tough reelection campaign in 1996, Clinton again worked with hard-right congressional Republicans to pass the Personal Responsibility Work Act, which, as he put it, brought an end to welfare as we know it. With that laws work requirement for welfare, even as unemployment among Black residents of cities like Chicago (left behind by industry) hit 20 percent to 25 percent, youth in inner cities across America found that street-level drug dealing was fast becoming their only opportunity. In effect, the Clintons gained short-term political advantage by doing long-term social and economic damage to a core Democratic constituency, the African American community.
Nonetheless, during his 1996 reelection campaign, Clinton trumpeted such dubious legislative achievements. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire, for instance, Hillary Clinton celebrated her husbands Violent Crime Control Act for taking back the streets from murderous minority teenagers. They are often the kinds of kids that are called super-predators, Clinton said. No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.
The term super-predator had, in fact, originated with a Princeton University political scientist, John Dilulio, who described his theory to the first couple during a 1995 White House working dinner on juvenile crime. In an article for a neoconservative magazine that November, the academic trumpeted his apocalyptic analysis. Based solely on the spottiest of anecdotal evidence, he claimed that black inner-city neighborhoods would soon fall prey to such super predatorsa new kind of juvenile criminal marked by impulsive violencevacant staresremorseless eyes. Within five years, he predicted, there would be 30,000 more murderers, rapists, and muggers on the streets who would place zero value on the lives of their victims, whom they reflexively dehumanize as just so much worthless white trash. This rising demographic tide, he warned, would soon spill over into upscale central-city districts, inner-ring suburbs, and even the rural heartland.
By the way, the truly significant part of Hillary Clintons statement based on Dilulios analysis was that phrase about bringing super-predators to heel. A quick quiz. Who or what does one bring to heel: (a.) a woman, (b.) a man, or (c.) a child? Answer: (d.) None of the above.
That term is used colloquially for controlling a leashed dog. By implicitly referring to young Black males as predators and animals, Clinton was tapping into one of Americas most venerable and virulent ethnic stereotypes: the Black buck or brute. The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Michigan reports that the brute caricature portrays black men as innately savage, animalistic, destructive, and criminaldeserving punishment, maybe death. Black brutes are depicted as hideous, terrifying predators.
Indeed, Southern fiction of the Jim Crow era featured the Black brute as an animal predator whose natural prey was white women. In words strikingly similar to those Dilulio and Clinton would later use for their super-predator, Thomas Dixons influential 1905 novel The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan described the Black brute as half child, half animala being who, left to his will, roams at night and sleeps in the day, whose speech knows no word of love, whose passions, once aroused, are as the fury of the tiger. When turned into a movie in 1915 as The Birth of a Nation (the first film ever screened in the White House), it depicted a Black mans animalistic rape of a virtuous white woman and reveled in the Klans retribution by lynching.
In effect, the rhetoric about super-predators revived the most virulent stereotype from the Jim Crow lexicon. By the end of President Clintons term in 2000, nearly every state in the nation had stiffened its laws on juveniles, setting aside family courts and sending young, mainly minority, offenders directly to adult prisons for long sentences.
Of course, the predicted wave of 30,000 young super-predators never happened. Instead, violent juvenile crime was already declining when Hillary Clinton gave that speech. By the time President Clintons term ended in 2001, the juvenile homicide rate had fallen well below its level in 1985.
Amazingly, it would be another 20 years before Hillary Clinton was compelled to confront the meaning of those freighted words of hers. While she was speaking to a donors meeting in South Carolina during her 2016 presidential campaign, Ashley Williams, a young Black activist, stood up in the front row and unfurled a small banner that read: We have to bring them to heel. Speaking calmly, she asked: Will you apologize to black people for mass incarceration? And then she added, I am not a super-predator, Hillary Clinton.
When Clinton tried to talk over her, she insisted: I know that you called Black people super-predators in 1994. As the Secret Service hurried that young woman out of the room amid taunts from the largely white audience, Clinton announced, with a palpable sense of relief, Okay, back to the issues.
In its report on the incident, The Washington Post asked Clinton for a comment. In response, she offered the most unapologetic of apologies, explaining that, back in 1994, she had been talking about violent crime and vicious drug cartels and the particular danger they pose to children and families.
As an advocate, as first lady, as senator, I was a champion for children, she added, though admitting as well that, looking back, I shouldnt have used those words.
That was it. No mention of mass incarceration. No apology for using the power of the White House pulpit to propagate the most virulent of racial stereotypes. No promises to undo all the damage she and her husband had caused. Not surprisingly, in November 2016, the African American turnout in 33 statesparticularly in the critical swing states of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsinwas markedly down, costing her the election.
As much as both Republicans and Democrats might wish us to forget the costs of their deals, this tragic past is very much part of our present. In the 20 years since the drug war took final form under Clinton, politicians have made some relatively inconsequential reforms. In 2010, Congress made a modest cut in the sentencing disparity between the two kinds of cocaine that reduced the prison population by an estimated 1,550 inmates; Barack Obama pardoned 1,700 drug offenders; and Donald Trump signed the First Step Act that released 3,000 prisoners. Add up all those reforms and you end up with only 1.5 percent of those now in prison for drug offensesjust the tiniest drop of mercy in a vast ocean of misery.
So, even 50 years later, this country is still fighting a war on drugs and on nonviolent drug users. Thanks to its laws, petty drug possession is still a felony with heavy penalties. As of 2019, this countrys prisons remained overcrowded with 430,900 people convicted of drug crimes, while drug offenders represented 46 percent of all those in federal penitentiaries. In addition, the United States still has the worlds highest incarceration rate at 639 prisoners per 100,000 population (nearly double Russias), with 1,380,400 people imprisoned, of whom 33 percent are Black.
So many decades later, the drug wars mass incarceration still denies millions of African Americans the right to vote. As of 2020, 48 states refused their convicts the vote, while 34 states imposed a range of restrictions on ex-convicts, effectively denying suffrage to about 2.2 million Blacks, or 6.3 percent of all African American adults.
Recent challenges have made more visible the drug wars once largely invisible mechanisms for denying African Americans their rightful political power as a community. In a 2018 plebiscite, Florida voters restored electoral rights to that states 1.4 million ex-convicts, including 400,000 African Americans. Almost immediately, however, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis required that 800,000 of those felons pay whatever court costs and fines they still owed before votinga decision he successfully defended in federal court just before the 2020 presidential election. The effect of such determined Republican efforts meant that fewer than 8 percent of Floridas ex-convicts were able to vote.
But above all, Black male drug users are still stigmatized as dangerous predators, as we all saw in the recent trial of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who tried to defend kneeling on George Floyds neck for nine minutes by blaming Floyds death on the opiods an autopsy found in the victims blood. And in March 2020, a paramilitary squad of Louisville police broke down an apartment door with a battering ram on a no-knock drug raid for a suspected Black drug dealer and wound up killing his sleeping ex-girlfriend, medical worker Breonna Taylor.
Maybe now, half a century later, its finally time to end the war on drug usersrepeal the heavy penalties for possession, pardon the millions of nonviolent offenders, replace mass incarceration with mandatory drug treatment, restore voting rights to convicts and ex-convicts alike, and, above all, purge those persistent stereotypes of the dangerous Black male from our public discourse and private thoughts.
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The Punitive War on Drugs Unnecessarily Harms Sha’Carri Richardson and Many Other Black Women – Essence
Posted: at 3:46 am
When Alice Coachman shattered every barrier and became the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in 1948, her accomplishment set the stage for what would lead to decades of Olympic games benefitting from Black female athletes grit, determination, style, and star quality. It set the stage forShaCarriRichardson.
Just a few weeks ago, Richardson awed us on her journey as an inspirational athlete and icon. Then the news broke that a THC-positive drug test would disqualify her from competing in the Olympic 100-meter race. Now, there are reports shehasbeen left offthe 4 x100 meter relay team,which willcompeteafterher30-day ban ends.
What the world is seeing in real time is how the now 50-year-old racist and politically motivated War on Drugshas infiltrated our everyday lives, far beyond jails and prisons.Its tentacles have spread, with drug testing and other rules and regulations that prohibit recreational drug use and unnecessary punitive reactions. These are tools of the drug war, yet drug testing does nothing to show a current, existing state of impairment. It does, however, unjustly rob individuals of their livelihoods, future, and dreams. And for what?
There is awealth of research and informationonthe unfair ways in which these practices have failed our communities and have specially targeted Black and Brown people. Governing institutions investments in surveillance and punishments as a response to drug use is not only unscientific, its actively harmful.It has led to devastating disruption in all aspects of life including education, employment, child welfare, housing, immigration, and family support structures. And too often its Black women who face the brunt of the impact.
As a nation, we must end these practices and create new opportunities that correct the abuses of this War which have led to Black, Latinx, low-income, and immigrant populations suffering higher rates of incarceration and divestment from health care, non-police alternatives to public safety, and education in their communities.
Weve seen how racist non-consensual drug testing of Black and Latinx parents can lead tonewborn children being ripped from their parents armsover allegations. And weve called out how faulty drug tests have been used totorture incarcerated people with solitary confinement.Now a young, autonomous Black woman is at the center of the firestorm.
Naysayers have taunted and blamed Richardson, saying she should have followed the rules. First, lets acknowledge this way of thinking is often disingenuous and ignores the evidence emerging that marijuana is only banned by the USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) because of pressure from the White House, not because of concerns over performance enhancement.
What is lacking is compassion, grace, and the same ingenious problem-solving and concern for humanity that has created a legal marijuana market that grossedUSD $9.1 billion in 2020 worldwide.
Arbitrary criminalization like this across many aspects of our societyfrom housing policies to employment practices and education policingleads to surveilling and penalizing Blackpeople forsimply existing. However,the rules are also inconsistent.
ShaCarrireportedly used marijuana in Oregona state where adult use is legal.In fact, her consumption in a legal state might have been considered acceptable by USADA code, which prohibits marijuana only during in-competition periods. These policies also reinforce that use of the drug does not indicate a sign of addiction or problematic use.
What is lacking is compassion, grace, and the same ingenious problem-solving and concern for humanity that has created a legal marijuana market that grossedUSD$9.1 billion in 2020 worldwide.
These punitive policies and their harsh enforcement ensure a far greater impact beyond lost economic opportunities. Richardsons disqualification is not the first story that weve heard out of the 2021 Olympics that attemptsto strip athletes of their dignity and their right to compete on a world stage. However, as with other cases involving drug testing, it has been the most efficient and effective at crushing opportunitya fate experienced by far too many Americans because of biased drug testing practices.
Richardson has already explained her rationale for her actions and apologized publicly. But she shouldnt have to apologize for being anautonomous Black woman and for the choices she makes to navigate her life and recent trauma (she chose to use marijuana to cope with the grief of just losing her biological mother).
Let me be clear: I would stand with Richardson even if she used to relax or for a fun night out with friends. The marijuana rule is draconian, politically motivated, and scientifically flimsy. Some people solely believe she is deserving of compassion because she used cannabis to cope with her biological moms death, but I disagree with that vigorously. As Richardson said, she is a humanand for me that is enough, especially when we know the rule is illegitimate. Black women dont have to share their pain to get your sympathy. Richardson deserves our support because it is the right thing to do.
What weve seen this week withShaCarriRichardsons journey is the insidious ways in which testing as a tool can create a destructive cycle, suddenly and viciously. But let this be the catalyst for change. LetRichardonsstory change the policy:The USADA must undo this archaic, inhumane, and unscientific policy. Let her run.
But this is also more than just one USADA policy.
We see outdated and wrongheaded criminalization and targeting because of marijuana every day in our work.ShaCarrissuspension serves as a cautionary tale and a reminder of how insidious the drug war is in our everyday lives, far beyond the carceral state.
WATCH: At ESSENCE Festival of Culture 2021, Black women discuss how incarceration aims to dehumanize people and their fight to raise awareness of struggles post-incarceration.
Finally,marijuana should be legal for all. The House should pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE) Act H.R. 3617 absent of a harmful provision that was added to exclude federal workers of drug testing protectionsto decriminalize anddeschedulecannabis as a critical first step toward racial justice and equity. We can jumpstart that by finally taking the lead to undo the draconian policies that they have spread across the world and influenced the Olympics. LetShaCarrirun and lets get rid of drug testing in this country once and for all so we can create a world where more Black girls run free and scream Im that girl!
From low-income communities to Olympic-caliber athletesand the communities that have lost the most cannot wait any longer. We need unequivocal commitment to comprehensive federal legalization, an end to policing and surveillance, evidence-based drug education,and drug policies now.
Ending the drug war would mean a restoration of dignity and respect within affected communities especially for Black women and create new avenues for better health outcomes,safety,and overall quality of life. It would allowShaCarrito run without fear of an arbitrary policy crushing her dream. No one should be subjected to contradictory and punitive rules about what they can and cannot put in their own bodies.
Kassandra Frederique is the Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Drug Policy Alliance is a national organization working in coalition to eliminate punishment for drug use and repair the harms of the drug war and its policies.
TOPICS: shacarri richardson Tokyo Olympics war on drugs
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Posted: at 3:46 am
Journalist Michael Pollan, author of the 2018 psychedelic history/memoirHow To Change Your Mind, seems to have changed his own mind about the best way to address America's unjust and irrational drug laws. The evolution of Pollan's thinking illustrates the arbitrariness of the categories that Americans use to classify intoxicants and the confusion it causes even for well-meaning and thoughtful observers who are sympathetic to drug policy reform.
In a 2019 New York Times opinion piece, Pollan expressed concern about using ballot initiatives to decriminalize or legalize psychedelics, suggesting that we should rely on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to decide who may use which psychoactive substances under what circumstances. "Psilocybin has a lot of potential as medicine," the subhead said, "but we don't know enough about it yet to legalize it."
In aNew York Timesessay posted this morning, Pollan, whose new book on psychoactive plants was published this week, acknowledges the limitations of treating psilocybin and other psychedelics as medicines and welcomes the success of the ballot initiatives that initially worried him. He also extends his critique of the war on drugs to "hard ones like heroin and cocaine."
There are two main problems with relying on the FDA to decide how drugs should be treated. First, approval of a new medicine takes years and requires spending millions of dollars on clinical studies. Second, the agency's mission is limited to assessing the safety and efficacy of drugs that are presented as a treatment for a recognized medical or psychiatric condition.
The war on weed continued after the FDA approved synthetic THC as a treatment for the side effects of cancer chemotherapy in 1985, after it added AIDS wasting syndrome as a recognized indication in 1992, and after it approved the first federally sanctioned cannabis-derived medicine as a treatment for two rare kinds of epilepsy in 2018. The war on psychedelics likewise will continue after the FDA approves MDMA as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder or psilocybin as a treatment for severe depression. FDA approval means only that patients who have the requisite diagnosis and prescription can legally use substances that are otherwise forbidden. Every other user is still treated as a criminal.
Another "path to normalization" that Pollan discusses is religious exemptions. "Since 1994," he says, "the Native American Church, now with an estimated 250,000 members, has had the constitutional right to use peyote as a sacrament." Pollan is wrong about both the origin and the nature of that exception, and the history of this issue shows that pharmacological freedom for members of one religious group does not necessarily imply a similar tolerance for other sects, let alone Americans generally.
The ceremonial use of peyote by members of the Native American Church has been protected by federal regulation since 1965. That exception was codified in 1994 by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which said "the use, possession, or transportation of peyote by an Indian for bona fide traditional ceremonial purposes in connection with the practice of a traditional Indian religion is lawful, and shall not be prohibited by the United States or any State." Far from establishing a "constitutional right," that law was a response to a Supreme Court decision that said there was no such right.
In the 1990 caseEmployment Division v. Smith, the Court upheld the denial of unemployment benefits for two drug counselors who had been fired for violating Oregon's drug laws by using peyote in Native American Church ceremonies. Departing from precedent, the justices said the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause does not require exemptions from neutral, generally applicable laws that impinge on religious conduct. Congress reacted by passing both the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and a broader statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which revived the test that the Court had rejected. Under RFRA, the government may not "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion" unless it is using "the least restrictive means" to pursue a "compelling government interest."
In 2006, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that RFRA protected the ceremonial use of ayahuasca by the religious sect Centro Espirita Beneficente Unio do Vegetal. Eight years later, the Court ruled that RFRA also protected business owners who for religious reasons objected to a federal mandate requiring them to provide their employees with medical insurance that covered 20 specified kinds of contraception. Citing both of those cases, Pollan suggests "this Supreme Court's expansive jurisprudence on religious freedom has created a wide opening through which a parade of new psychedelic churches may be able to march."
Given the skepticism with which federal courts have greeted such claims, I have my doubts. More to the point, RFRA protection is available only to psychedelic users who belong to organized religious groups that describe a particular drug as central to their rituals. What about the rest of us?
Pollan, who in 2019 expressed trepidation about the psilocybin initiative that Oregon voters approved last year, is now more sanguine about that measure, which gave the Oregon Health Authority two years to write rules for licensing and regulating "psilocybin service centers" where adults 21 or older can legally take the drug under the supervision of a "facilitator" after completing a "preparation session." The initiative specifies that regulators "may not require a client to be diagnosed with or have any particular medical condition as a condition to being provided psilocybin services."
Pollan describes this newly permitted drug use as "psilocybin therapy," a hangover from his earlier focus on psychedelics as officially approved medicines. But the significance of Oregon's initiative lies in its departure from the FDA's approach, which allows drug use only by prescription for treatment of a "particular medical condition."
Oregon nevertheless will restrict psilocybin use to licensed, supervised settings, which reassures Pollan. Building on the Oregon model, he imagines "spa-like retreat centers" that would cater to "Americans who want to use psychedelics in a more secular setting." He suggests those services would include a psychiatric screening, administration of psychedelics by "a doctor or nurse practitioner," and supervision by "trained facilitators."
In terms of liberalizing the legal treatment of psychedelics, that is about as far as Pollan seems willing to go. "The prospect of magic mushrooms being commercialized like cannabisadvertised on billboards and sold next to THC gummy bears in dispensariesshould fill us with trepidation," he says. "Microdoses perhaps, but a macrodose of psilocybin is a powerful, consequential and risky experience that demands careful preparation and an experienced sitter or guide."
Keep in mind that Pollan himself has used a wide range of psychedelics, experiences that he describes in How To Change Your Mind. He did that without joining a church, getting permission from a doctor, or visiting a government-licensed "retreat center." And while he says there should be some allowance for "healthy people without a psychiatric diagnosis who want to use psychedelics for therapy, self-discovery or spiritual development," where does that leave people who use psychedelics out of curiosity or just for fun?
Pollan's insistence that would-be psychedelic users demonstrate a serious purpose and comply with regulations that he never followed reflects a disdain for psychonauts who have not written bestselling books about their adventures. While he can be trusted to take appropriate precautions, he thinks, the rest of us need to be constrained by legal rules.
To his credit, however, Pollan has begun to overcome the "psychedelic exceptionalism" that irritates Columbia psychologist Carl Hart, author ofDrug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear. Hart, a temperate heroin user, decries the bigotry of people who see nothing wrong with marijuana or psychedelic use but look down on drug consumers with different pharmacological tastes.
"This is uncomfortable territory, partly because few Americans regard pleasure as a legitimate reason to take drugs and partly because the drug war (with its supporters in academia and the media) has produced such a dense fog of misinformation, especially about addiction," Pollan writes. "Many people (myself included) are surprised to learn that the overwhelming majority of people who take hard drugs do so without becoming addicted. We think of addictiveness as a property of certain chemicals and addiction as a disease that people, in effect, catch from those chemicals, but there is good reason to believe otherwise. Addiction may be less a disease than a symptomof trauma, social disconnection, depression or economic distress."
Although addiction experts such as Stanton Peele have been making these points for half a century, they apparently were news to Pollan, despite his keen interest in chemically assisted mind alteration. In support of the observation that drugs do not cause addiction, Pollan cites the "Rat Park" experiments that Canadian psychologist Bruce Alexander conducted in the late 1970s, inspired by Peele's 1975 book Love and Addiction (co-authored by Archie Brodsky). Pollan also mentions a classic study of veterans who used heroin in Vietnam that was published in 1974.
Better late than never. The newly enlightened Pollan endorses "harm reduction" measures such as "drug treatment, instead of incarceration," needle exchange, heroin maintenance, anddecriminalizing low-level possession (as Oregon voters also did last year). He even broaches the possibility of repealing prohibition, which is where the logic of harm reduction ultimately leadsthe reason the concept "terrified drug warriors," as Maia Szalavitz notes in her new history of the movement. Pollan suggests that "the uneasy peace our culture has made with alcohol may point to a way drugs like heroin and cocaine might someday be used in the post-war-on-drugs era." Indeed it might.
"The long history of humans and their mind-altering drugs gives us reason to hope we can negotiate a peace with these powerful substances, imperfect though it may be," Pollan says. "We have done it before. The ancient Greeks grasped the ambiguous, double-edged nature of drugs much better than we do. Their word for them, 'pharmakon,' means both 'medicine' and 'poison'it all depends, they understood, on use, dose, intention, set and setting. Blessing or curse, which will it be? The answer depends not on law or chemistry so much as on culture, which is to say, on us."
Our disastrous drug control regime is built on pharmacological prejudices that cannot withstand rigorous study or careful thought. Pollan deserves credit for discarding some of his.
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The War On Drugs have reportedly been filming a new music video, according to a new post on Reddit.
The band, led by Adam Granduciel, are said to have been filming in a barn somewhere in the US.
Randomly stumbled upon this on Facebook! Reddit user frontyer0077 posted on the Indieheads subreddit. Looks like theyre filming a music video!
They included a screen grab from Facebook of someone posting photos from the supposed shoot. Fun film shoot in our barn today for an upcoming album release by Adam Granduciel, and his band, The War On Drugs, the caption read.
Randomly stumbled upon this on facebook! Looks like theyre filming a music video! from WarOnDrugsBand
Our friend, Emmett Malloy, directed. Weston worked as a production assistant. I like this band a lot.
Malloy previously worked with the band on the music video for their 2017 song Pain. It is unclear who the Weston referred to in the post is.
In November 2020, Granduciel gave an update on the bands next record. In March I wouldve told you it was 80 per cent done, and now looking back it was actually 40 per cent done, he said. Some songs have been reimagined since, which has been a blessing. Some songs have had just one more layer of mud removed from them.
The group premiered the new song Ocean Of Darkness during a remote-recorded appearance on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon last year. The frontman also shared previews of three songs on an Instagram Live stream in March 2020. The tracks were titled Victim, I Dont Wanna Wait, and Harmonious Dream.
The War On Drugs last released music with their fourth album A Deeper Understanding in 2017. In a four-star review, NME said: These songs revel in their spaciousness, like three- minute drivetime anthems from 1986 set free from their radio edits to muck around with 2017s oddest noises for seven minutes at a time. Granduciels music is such a sumptuous wallow we dont mind moving forward by the inch.
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Colombias President Ivan Duque appears to have given up on combating drug trafficking 50 years after the beginning of the disastrous War on Drugs.
For the first time since taking office, Duque didnt even mention drug trafficking after talking to his American counterpart Joe Biden last week.
Bidens press secretary said the US president had called for a holistic counternarcotics approach in their first phone call, but the Colombian president had other things in mind.
Prosecutors were interrogating the husband of Vice-President Marta Lucia Ramirez over his role in drug money laundering by the capitals real estate tycoons.
The Supreme Court was already investigating Duques political patron, former President and admitted former Medellin Cartel associate Alvaro Uribe since last year.
Evidence indicated Uribe conspired with the drug trafficking organization of Marquitos Figueroa whose late money launderer helped finance Duques 2018 presidential campaign.
Defense Minister Diego Molano, who swore that in March he would kick off the aerial fumigation of coca, the base ingredient of cocaine, in March, appears to have forgotten the controversial strategy that was announced at least seven times.
Some 40 lawmakers requested the Constitutional Court to verify the governments compliance with conditions that would allow the resumption of the controversial strategy in early June, but have yet to receive a response.
The delays and false promises make it increasingly unlikely the Duque administration will be able to resume spraying before leaving office in August next year.
Defense Ministry statistics indicate that the manual eradication of coca increased with more than 30% between January and May compared to the same period last year, but these statistics have lost all meaning.
Coca cultivation went up by 33,000 hectares to 245,000 in 2020, according to the US Government, raising questions about Bogotas claims that more than 130,000 hectares were eradicated last year.
The White House last week confirmed claims by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime that Colombia produced more cocaine that ever last year.
The disintegration of Duques counternarcotics coincides with the 50th anniversary of the War on Drugs, which is widely considered an epic failure, except by the narcos.
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Posted: at 3:46 am
ShaCarri Richardson looks on after winning the Womens 100 Meter final on day 2 of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 19, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
ShaCarri Richardson was winning the race for Pre-Olympics Most Popular American Athlete and then, suddenly, she wasnt. Shes still popular controversy has made her sympathetic and even more famous but now its all complicated.
ShaCarri was going into Tokyo as the odds-on favorite to end up on a Wheaties box with her flaming hair, her blazing speed, and her audacious confidence. We love someone who knows shes bad and she knew she was a bad mamajama. But in a twist worthy of a novel, a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation. Her story was upended by the pathetic War on Drugs.
Please miss me with the idea that its her fault she took some weed (to get over the pain of the death of her mother) and the Karen-ish argument that she shouldve known better. People have been quick to blame her a 21 year-old in the midst of the most difficult moment of her life because its easy to place blame on a single person.
Yes, she broke a rule but the real problem is the rule. Its a dumb one and given how deeply the drug prohibition and the War on Drugs damages the Black community, we should not give any respect to this oppressive rule. If we just follow and uphold bad, immoral rules then society will never advance. The Civil Rights Movement that helped liberate us was powered by the concept of civil disobedience rejecting and breaking immoral, oppressive rules. So instead of leaping to the simplistic notion of rules are rules and she didnt follow the rules, lets do something bigger and more meaningful: lets critique the institutions for perpetuating a ridiculous prohibition on marijuana.
Why is marijuana illegal? Its not a performance enhancer, its not a steroid, so why is it banned? If ShaCarri had gotten drunk there would be no problem, but even a little weed is disqualifying? Doesnt that sound arbitrary? The real problem isnt that ShaCarri smoked (or ate) some weed. Its that we live in a country that prizes the pursuit of happiness yet criminalizes using marijuana. And this country does that because marijuana prohibition helps fuel the Prison Industrial Complex which houses thousands and thousands of marijuana offenders they are the main product.
And most of them are Black people.
Marijuana is a gateway drug for powerful white people to take the freedom of Black people. Criminalizing marijuana is a big business. And our efforts to police marijuana mean thousands of non-violent Black American drug users are attacked by police while a multi-billion industry is controlled by homicidal criminals who live in other countries. And people like ShaCarri are penalized for wanting the peace that marijuana brings. This system makes no sense and if marijuana were legalized in America that would crush the underground market, free the police to pursue actual crimes, and create millions and perhaps billions in tax dollars.
ShaCarri was set to become the face of the Tokyo Olympics but now shes like the face of the ridiculousness of our marijuana prohibition. I just want to see her run but as The Onion wrote Dreams Crushed Over Trivial Bullshit Represents Nation Better Than Gold Medal Ever Could.
ShaCarri winning wouldve been held up as an example of American Awesomeness but ShaCarri not being able to race over this is an example of American Patheticness.
Touris the host of the podcasts Toure Show and Democracyish and the podcast docuseries Who Was Prince? He is also the author of six books.
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Posted: at 3:46 am
MANILA, Philippines The killings in theDuterte administration's bloody "war on drugs" are part of a "war"one that "terrorizes" the poorest of the poor and leaves them with no recourse for justice, a panel of rights advocates and lawyers said.
In asecond report that will be sent to the 47th Session of the United NationsHuman Rights Council, Investigate PH highlighted what it said was the lack of domestic remedies available to victims of the "war on drugs", many of whom belong to the country's poorest.
"By simply yet selectively treating illegal drug use as a crime rather than a larger public health challenge, the president has launched a war against the poor, that serves to demonstrate his power and to sow fear," the report read.
"'Tokhang'is a shortened phrase for 'knock and persuade,'referring to the police house-to-house visits. But in reality, it is 'kick in the door and shoot'...Those killed in anti-drug operations are overwhelmingly poor people unable to assert their rights to due process."
Citing interviews with victims and witnesses, Investigate PH said poor communities are affected by these operations through:
According to witnesses, relatives of victims are still visited by cops years after their family members are killed in operations. They are asked if they still intend to file a case.
"Instinctively the people say 'no,'hoping that the police will leave them alone. They fear for the lives of their other children," Investigate PH said.
The investigative group also called into question the police claim that most if not all of the killings resulted from legitimate drug suspects violently resisting arrest.
"Evidence indicates that unarmed victims have been executed either in their home, on the street or after being abducted, with weapons or drugs likely planted after," the report read, citing photographic evidence of victims who were handcuffed and unarmed when they were shot by cops.
"In one case, a witness saw the police execute three men, then plant guns on them after firing the weapons in the direction the police had come from."
Despite the 'nanlaban' narrative, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that his department's review of drug cases found lapses in protocol. He said that there many cases where"no request[s] for ballistic examination or paraffin test [were] pursued" in cases where cops claimed suspects violently resisted arrest.
Independent autopsies on drug war victims also found that there was "no genuine police inquiry into the cause of death" on the part of the authorities. Death certificates and police examinations were found lacking as they did not record X-rays of victims or evidence of defensive wounds.
Investigate PH pointed out that the finding has so far "not translated into changes in anti-drug policy and operations or placed accountability for the killings."
The group also pointed to what it said wasthe persistent lack of redress for abuses by State agents, saying: "Police routinely cover-up the circumstances of killings in anti-drug operations, intimidate families and potential witnesses, and obstruct review of most killings by the Department of Justice."
Investigate PH also said that, onan institutional level, the approach to barring justice is two-pronged: on the ground, the friends and families of victims are intimidated and even threatened. Meanwhile, police leadership points to the lack of formal complaints as evidence that operations are done by the book.
Out of over 6,000 anti-drug killings acknowledged by official police data, the Philippine National Police has given the justice departmentrecords of 53 cases that its Internal Affairs Service has worked on.
"The Duterte government has ensured the lack of accountability for police failing to follow standard protocols in thousands of cases of anti-drug operation killings. The Ombudsman has accepted all these killings as part of 'regularity'in police operations. The higher courts have also rejected claims by victims relatives, in favor of the police," Investigate PH said.
To recall, Investigate PH in its first reportsaidthat numerous and documented cases ofabuseperpetrated by state forces have "become more institutionalized, orchestrated and entrenched" under the Duterte administration.
READ:Duterte government has no interest in probing themselves global group
Commissioners of the panelalso criticizedthe Duterte administration's flagship anti-narcotics campaign for "failing to quell the trade in illegal drugs its purported goal which continues to flow cheaper than ever."
In 2020, crystal methamphetamines or shabu was found to still be behind the most arrest and treatment admissions in the Philippines, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported.
Citing figures from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Dangerous Drugs Board, the UNODC said that shabu "remains the main drug of concern in the Philippines" with just a year left under the Duterte administration.
According to the government's Real Numbers PH info campaign, 13,400 barangays are yet to be classified as "drug-free" out of 42,045.
The president's landslide win in 2016 was founded on, among other things, ambitious promises of ending drugs and criminality within the first six months of his term. He later asked for a six-monthextension that he also later failed to meet.
READ:With a year left in Duterte's term, UNODC says shabu still a major problem in the Philippines
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(Philstar.com) - July 7, 2021 - 12:05pm
MANILA, Philippines The Philippine National Police on Thursday rebuffed the report of ainternational investigating panel that circumstances behind the killings in the Duterte administration's "war on drugs" are being covered up.
A Department of Justice-led review last year of drug cases where suspected drug personalities were killed found lapses in protocol. The Commission on Human Rights has also repeatedly raised concerns over a lack of cooperation from the police on possible cases of rights violations in law enforcement operations.
In a statement, Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, PNP chief, said there is no policy to cover up wrongdoings and abuse in policeranks.
"We are aware of these allegations but we also inform our compatriots that more than 18,000 police officers have been punished in the past five years and this includes the dismissal of more than 5,000 in our ranks due to various cases of abuse of power,"he said.
What did the report say?: Investigate PH in asecond report that will be sent to the 47th Session of the United NationsHuman Rights Councilsaid that police officers block attempts at transparency and accountability.
"Police routinely cover up the circumstances of killings in anti-drug operations, intimidate families and potential witnesses, and obstruct review of most killings," it said.
Witness interviews by the group found thatthe friends and families of victims are intimidated and even threatened to keep quiet. Meanwhile, police leadership points to the lack of formal complaints as evidence that operations are done by the book.
According to witnesses, cops still visit relatives of victims years after their family members are killed in operations to ask if they intend to file complaints.
"Instinctively the people say 'no,'hoping that the police will leave them alone. They fear for the lives of their other children," Investigate PH said.
"Evidence indicates that unarmed victims have been executed either in their home, on the street or after being abducted, with weapons or drugs likely planted after," the report also read, citing photographic evidence of victims who were handcuffed and unarmed when they were shot.
Independent autopsies on drug war victims also found that there was "no genuine police inquiry into the cause of death" on the part of the authorities. Death certificates and police examinations were found lacking as they did not record X-rays of victims or evidence of defensive wounds.
Selective transparency?: While the national police does take action in high-profile murder cases by cops, it also grants a presumption of regularity in the killings ofactivists and drug suspects.
The police general also defended the 'nanlaban' narrative that suspects end up dead because they forced cops to shoot saying police officersare also harmed in their operations and are forced to fight back.
"It's coming out that the lives of our policemen were really in danger...I also remind you that there are deaths and injuries on our side in our tough campaign against illegal drugs," he said.
Eleazar also pointed to thecase folderssubmitted to the justice department for reviewon police anti-illegal drug operations where there were deaths, either of suspects or police operatives.
The PNP has also send the DOJ53 files from its Internal Affairs Service out of the over 6,000 deaths in anti-drug operations.
"I understand your point of ensuring a professional PNP and of a human rights-based approach in the conduct of our operations but what I can assure you is that these are all being observed and strictly monitored,"the PNP chief claimed.
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The ever increasing prevalence of drugs in our society and the existence of drug gangs cannot be stopped or defeated by the current methods of criminalisation and enforcement.
This is the view of the Social Democrats Galway City East councillor, Owen Hanley, who said it is time the State ended the ineffective war on drugs and began instead, to look seriously at a regulation approach.
Cllr Hanley made his call following a statement issued by Youth Workers Against Prohibition, which declared, the policy of prohibition/criminalisation has failed and is not the way forward."
The group, which features more than 100 youth workers, said "there is, and always will be, a thriving unregulated drug market and the longer we continue to hold on to the illusion of beating it, the longer we will have to see young people, families and communities suffer the consequences".
Cllr Hanley said the youth workers should be taken seriously as work on the front lines with those who would otherwise be forgotten by the system.
They support those on the hard edge of injustice and inequality, he said, so I'm not surprised they are raising their voices against our status quo that simply is not working. We aren't stopping the increasing prevalence of drugs in society, we aren't stopping dangerous drug gangs, and we aren't helping many lives plagued with addiction.
In its statement, Youth Workers Against Prohibition said: We see the devastation that unregulated drugs are inflicting on communities as young people have no idea of the content, purity or consequences of what they are taking. Prohibition drives our young people who use drugs underground, it isolates them and places them in danger...and propels them further into a cycle of addiction, debt and criminality.
The group is calling on the Government to instead adopt an evidence-based drug policy that places social care and public health, not the criminal justice system, at the heart of the States response to drug use.
A responsibly regulated market and a health-led response to drug use will produce more informed individuals, stronger communities, and healthier, happier families, the YWAP statement read. This approach also recognises that drug addiction is rooted in traumatic adverse early childhood experiences and will be treated as such."
Cllr Hanley believes that this last point is salient. There is strong evidence in support of a regulation approach, he said, that supports individuals from a mental health perspective, and ends the ineffective war on drugs. This discussion must happen."
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