Tag: Drug Policy Alliance

Washington State Follow’s Oregon’s Lead and Decriminalizes Personal Drug Possession

As one of the chief petitioners for the Oregon Measure 110 drug decriminalization measure, I’ve often been asked about which states would be the next to follow suit and swing a big sledgehammer at the the failed and racist Drug War and I always mentioned our great friend and neighbor to the north for a number of reasons. Washington and Oregon have both been pioneers on cannabis and other progressive reforms, such as voting by mail, death with dignity, and bottle deposits. Plus, both states have the initiative process that make “controversial” policy changes possible as too many legislators and policymakers tend to be too conservative to pass Drug War reforms until overwhelming voter support forces their hand, about a decade after a majority of the population is ready for the change. If it wasn’t for the COVID pandemic, an initiative similar to M110 would have likely been on Washington’s ballot in 2020 as well.

I expected our Great Northwest neighbors to successfully pass a decriminalization initiative in 2022 or 2024 at the latest, I certainly didn’t expect for Washington to decriminalize drug possession in 2021 because of a state supreme court decision. OPB reported on the landmark case:

Five justices, led by Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, said the state law was unconstitutional because it criminalized her passive, unknowing conduct, in violation of her due process protections. A letter carrier who unwittingly delivers a package of drugs, someone whose roommate hides drugs in a common living area, and someone who picks up the wrong bag at an airport could all be convicted under the law, she noted.

“Attaching the harsh penalties of felony conviction, lengthy imprisonment, stigma, and the many collateral consequences that accompany every felony drug conviction to entirely innocent and passive conduct exceeds the legislature’s powers,” Gordon McCloud wrote for the majority.

For more than six decades, the court had affirmed the Legislature’s power to criminalize drug possession without proof of a defendant’s intent to possess them. In a crucial decision from 1981, the court expressly noted that if lawmakers had wanted to require proof of intent, they would have made that an element of the crime.

Theshia Naidoo, managing director for the Drug Policy Alliance’s Department of Legal Affairs issued the following statement in a press release:

This decision is a perfect dovetail to the drug decriminalization bill moving through the legislature, which has already passed out of committee.  We urge legislators to immediately consider this bill and the benefits it would bring, including expanded health, harm reduction and recovery services, rather than re-enacting the harmful criminal penalties of the past that have resulted in extreme racial disparities, record drug overdoses, and countless lives ruined.
 
Oregon has already shown us in the most recent election that decriminalization is not only politically viable, but incredibly popular — as Measure 110, which decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use and provided increased access to services — passed by a 17 point margin. Washington should follow suit and provide people with the services they need, rather than the burden of a criminal record they are forced to carry throughout their lives.

Hopefully, Washington lawmakers see the writing on the wall and keep drug decriminalization in place. It is clear that we will not end drug addiction issues by arresting and jailing people. People need education, healthcare, employment, and housing. Let’s invest in people, not more prisons. A sincere thanks to the Washington State Supreme Court. Legislators and Governor Jay Inslee should follow their example, science, and the evidence on the ground from Portugal. If lawmakers rollback this decision and bring back racist drug penalties, I have no doubt that the great people of the Great Northwest will speak loudly and clearly that it is time to just say no to the Drug War. Step by step, state by state.

“Uprooting the Drug War” Launched by the Drug Policy Alliance Today

The Drug War negatively impacts all of us, even if you have never used drugs. Even if you only utilize cannabis in a legal state and think that the War on Drugs is over for you, the failed policy is still costing you as your medical, employment, and parental rights can still be dictated by a failed, outdated policy. Half of all states require that doctors report suspected drug use by parents to child welfare authorities, even if there isn’t any harm to the child. Many people are forced to forego medical cannabis by some doctors and people can lose their housing and employment opportunities, pushing people into poverty and potentially a life of crime to survive.

When entire communities are decimated, we all suffer. If you care about the overexpansion of the government’s power over our lives or wasteful spending, the Drug War aint’ for you. When the government wages a war on nonviolent citizens, the powers gained infiltrate other areas of our lives and the money set on fire trying to make America “drug free” is money that we’ll never get back. Resources that could be allocated to save lives and lift people out of poverty are instead used to build prisons and lock generations in a vicious cycle. The prison industrial complex only grows stronger with incentives to lobby for more draconian laws that are ineffective and harmful.

The Drug Policy Alliance is on the forefront of ending the Drug War. They helped form the foundation for both the Measure 91 cannabis legalization and Measure 110 drug decriminalization campaigns in Oregon. Today, they launched a new project, “Uprooting the Drug War” detailing just how pervasive the War on Drugs is in our lives:

The war on drugs has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives. Our government criminalizes people who use drugs instead of providing education and addiction health services, including treatment. Rather than invest in communities, public officials invest in surveillance, policing, and punishment tactics that disproportionately target and impact people of color, low-income people, and non-citizens. Though these tactics have fueled mass incarceration, that is not their only impact.

There are serious consequences for drug use in nearly every sector of civil life — education, employment, housing, child welfare, immigration, and public benefits. Punishment is not limited to the criminal legal system. Instead, it is the default reaction to drug use wherever it shows up, impacting our lives in profound but largely unrecognized ways. We must shine a spotlight on the insidious ways the drug war has spread into all our systems.

Uprooting the Drug War details how housing, public benefits, child welfare, immigration, education, and employment are all impacted by a failed and harmful policy with racist and classist consequences. The issues go above and beyond just mass incarceration, which would be bad enough. The New Jim Crow targets people of color and anyone without the means to adequately defend themselves. While the wealthy can often escape serious consequences, the working class and those suffering through poverty aren’t that fortunate. Check out Uprooting the Drug War and spread the word. Step by step, state by state, let’s end this failed and harmful policy.

#NoMoreDrugWar: Oregon Officially Ends Personal Drug Possession Arrests Today

The cannabis community knows all too well that the Drug War has been a terrible failure with racist and classist consequences. Communities of color have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs. Here in Oregon, Black and indigenous residents have especially suffered from over policing, getting arrested and convicted at a higher rate than other races and, in turn, experiencing detrimental collateral consequences such the inability to get a job, find housing, or further their education. In addition to the racist nature of the War on Drugs is the toll placed upon the poor and the working class. The wealthy, you can look to many celebrity examples, usually don’t end up with severe criminal consequences for their drug use, while those without means are further locked into a cycle of poverty. February 1st, 2021, marks the first day that Measure 110 goes into effect, eliminating harmful drug possession arrests and moving Oregon towards a health-based approach to treating drug use and addiction.

Serving as a co-chief petitioner and working on the M110 campaign was an honor of mine and so many people have had to put in decades of work to dismantle tons of misinformation and propaganda to move us forward. We are seeing a groundswell of support for ending harmful drug policies, including from law enforcement. The AFSCME 75 labor union endorsed Measure 110, and 10% of their membership is comprised of prison guards, and I was pleased to read in OPB how a Portland police officer was keeping an open mind:

Police and criminal justice agencies across Oregon are figuring out how to deal with the new law. Portland Police Officer Melissa Newhard thinks it may save officers time, as they can now simply write a ticket instead of taking someone to jail.

“This will be a little bit quicker, like a traffic stop,” she said. “But … we’re still going to get these people’s names. There will be that record that they have been stopped with illegal drugs on them, whether or not they went to jail.”

***

Newhard said the Portland Police Bureau has no plans to reduce the number of officers on the street because of the new law. Nor does she believe Measure 110 will reduce the number of times police search people they stop or their vehicles, because law enforcement is still tasked with preventing the sale of drugs. Newhard expects it will be relatively easy to distinguish between people carrying drugs for personal use and those carrying for sale. Officers can weigh contraband if necessary.

When the great Michelle Alexander first saw a sign that stated that “The Drug War Is the New Jim Crow” she was taken aback, thinking that the claim was too extreme, too radical. Over time, she “came to see that mass incarceration in the United States had, in fact, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow.”

Like Professor Alexander (who attended high school in Ashland, so Oregonians we can tout her as one of us), I was at first skeptical of claims made about cannabis and the ills of the Drug War. As I learned more and saw firsthand the tragic consequences of the War on Drugs, both personally and professionally, I knew that we had an obligation to end a harmful war being waged upon on our own citizens. Thank you, Oregon, for helping lead the way. There is still a lot of work to be done in Oregon and across the nation. Please support the efforts of the Oregon Health and Justice Recover Alliance as we all work to ensure that the will of the voters is fully enacted and the Drug Policy Alliance, who are leading the fight across the United States, and the globe.

Tell Children the Truth About Cannabis

When I found out that my parents lied to me about Santa Claus, my immediate thought was, “What else have they been lying to me about?” I had a similar reaction with cannabis because I had been taught by the local DARE program in school that I would immediately be addicted to heroin and other drugs. After realizing that I had been lied to about cannabis I wondered, “What other drugs did they lie to me about?”

While DARE officers may have inadvertently sparked my interest in drug policy reform, we are doing children, and our society, a great disservice by lying about cannabis. The fear mongering scare tactics that have been around since Reefer Madness days are just counterproductive and could push minors into using more addictive and deadly drugs after they realize that they have been lied to and the adults that shared those lies will lose credibility.

The Drug Policy Alliance on What You Should Really Tell Your Children About Marijuana:

When it comes to drug education, scare tactics and fearmongering are deeply counterproductive. The most infamous and commonly used drug education curriculum that relied on these approaches, D.A.R.E., has consistently been proven to be ineffective. Recent research about ideal forms of health education, including drug education, emphasizes the importance of skills-building as a fundamental approach.

DPA’s Safety First: Real Drug Education for Teens curriculum is the culmination of almost 20 years of work in youth drug issues by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). The Safety First curriculum empowers ninth and tenth grade students to make healthier decisions about alcohol and other drugs. It gives them personal and social strategies to manage the risks, benefits, and harms of alcohol and other drug use, as well as information about the impact of drug policies on their own health and the health of their communities. Most importantly, it spends a good deal of time building the critical thinking skills necessary to evaluate information about alcohol and other drugs. Safety First teaches young people to look at information critically and come to their own conclusions based on research. The aim is to give young people the tools to analyze sources such as Berenson’s book, and discover his inaccuracies and exaggerations on their own.

Personally, I believe that government agencies and nonprofits working to keep drugs out of the hands of children should bring in people from the cannabis community and industry to assist in messaging. Those of us that fight for legalization and have studied cannabis policy for years have a vested interest in keeping (non-medical) cannabis out of the hands of minors as much as anyone. Tell kids the truth about brain development and how some things are best left for adults, but don’t endanger children’s lives and your credibility with debunked myths. The truth is the way.

The Gateway Theory Has Been Debunked

As the cannabis legalization debate has moved into the mainstream, with 2/3 of Americans wanting to put an end to prohibition, it is still frustrating to hear those that oppose legalization cite the debunked “Gateway Theory.” There is simply no proof that using cannabis makes you want to move onto other drugs. Unfortunately, the debunked Gateway Theory is something that just won’t die, invading the public debate like a mindless zombie. Thankfully, a strong majority of people see through the nonsense and Reefer Madness propaganda.

From the good folks at the Drug Policy Alliance:

Research simply does not support the theory that marijuana is a “gateway” drug – that is, one whose use results in an increased likelihood of using “more serious” drugs such as cocaine and heroin. However, this flawed gateway effect is one of the principal reasons cited in defense of laws prohibiting the use or possession of marijuana.
Significant amounts of research as well as measures implemented in other countries suggest that there are far more effective and less harmful strategies for decreasing youth use of marijuana and reducing the potential harms of other illicit drug use than using the “gateway” myth as a scare tactic. New evidence suggests that marijuana can even serve as an “exit drug,” helping people to reduce or eliminate their use of more harmful drugs such as opiates or alcohol by easing withdrawal symptoms.
Reefer Madness prohibitionists may discount DPA, so here’s the Institute of Medicine debunking the Gateway Theory as “underage smoking and alcohol use typically precede marijuana use, marijuana is not the most common, and is rarely the first, ‘gateway’ to illicit drug use. There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”
While we are clearly winning the debate of whether to end the failed and harmful policy of cannabis prohibition, it is still irritating to have to deal with debunked theories and stereotypes. For the cannabis community to truly be free, not just legally, but also professionally and socially, it is imperative to share your stories, including whether you and loved ones have decreased the use of more harmful drugs, like opiates and alcohol, thanks to cannabis.