Our drug policies fail to take into account the human
factor, not only having a negative impact on those incarcerated, but also
creating huge economic burdens on families and society where the punishment is
often disproportionate to the crime.
Prison and jail is simply not the answer to drug use and
most drug-related offenses. Many inmates take up the use of more dangerous
drugs in prison, which was verified during my recent visit with someone very
close to me in a state prison. We need to find a better and more humane
response, which can be found in a growing international movement led by
scientists, health practitioners, drug users, policy makers, and law
enforcement officials such as members of the organization LEAP (Law Enforcement
I am writing this while still emotionally moved by the
speakers at this conference, which included not only professionals, but also
previously incarcerated individuals that had important stories to tell. The
Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose members include four past presidents, a
former UN Secretary General, and a Nobel laureate, launched a report in June
2011 that condemns the war on drugs and calls for governments to seriously
consider alternatives such as decriminalization that takes the matter of drug possession
out of law enforcement and puts it into that of public health – no longer
treating it as a criminal offense. Our tax dollars could be used much more
effectively on harm reduction programs, treatment, and compassionate programs
that integrate drug dependent individuals back into a more productive
On another note, politicians and the public express concerns
about our national debt and severe state budget shortfalls and fiscal deficits.
One policy change that can reduce this is ending the drug war by reducing
expenditures on enforcement and increasing tax revenue from legalized sales –
especially that of a benign and relatively safe substance such as cannabis.
Approximately $8.7 billion of savings would result just from
legalization of marijuana along with over $8 billion of revenue, assuming tax
rates would be comparable to those of alcohol and tobacco. More money could be
spent on recovery, youth drug education, harm reduction, and health care.
Ignorance, prejudice, and stigma are major factors keeping
us in this never-ending quest to eliminate drugs from society, which is an
impossible endeavor. We need to envision new drug policies grounded in science,
compassion, health, and human rights. As Jimmy Carter once said, “Penalties
against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than
the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere
is this clearer than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for
personal use...” Such is the case for the elderly Chippewa man that was charged
with a 3rd degree felony for growing two plants for his wife who has cancer.
This mis-guided war has robbed children of their futures
while building a massive prison-industrial complex. Parents whose children have
been caught up in addition suffer humiliation, anger, and stigma while the
lives of their loved ones cycle through the justice system for non-violent drug
offenses and relapse. This is a tragic waste of human potential, a painful
journey for the family, and a tremendous cost to the state.
When will we wake up and see that our current policies are