Thursday, September 18, 2008

Support Question Two: decriminalize less an an ounce of marijuana

Five weeks until the election. Here in Massachusetts, we've got an opportunity to turn possession of small amounts of marijuana from a criminal to a civil offense.

The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy released a list of endorsers at a Boston press conference yesterday. Endorsers include:
  • Tom Kiley, Massachusetts' first assistant attorney general
  • Sergeant Howard Donohue, a 33-year veteran of the Boston Police Department
  • Lieutenant Thomas W. Nolan, a 30-year veteran of the Boston Police Department, now a professor at Boston University
  • Dr. Robert Meenan, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health
  • Lester Grinspoon, M.D., associate professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
  • Jeffrey Miron, Ph.D, senior lecturer in the Harvard University Department of Economics
  • Massachusetts state Sen. Patricia Jehlen (D), chair of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs and vice-chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight
  • Massachusetts state Rep. Frank Smizik (D), chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture
  • John H. Halpern, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
  • Charles Barron, professor at Boston College School of Law
  • ACLU of Massachusetts
  • the Union of Minority Neighborhoods
All eleven Massachusetts District Attorneys have signed onto a statement against Question Two at their website which you can find here. Although the DAs would like to portray Question Two as outside the mainstream, the truth is that more and more people, including current and former law enforcement officials, see the drug war as a war that is meant to be waged, not won.

Last Saturday, the Boston Globe ran the following editorial from a law enforcement officer. Read it well and then VOTE YES ON QUESTION TWO.

WAR AND RACE dominate the presidential campaign, but one nation-shaping war with profound racial consequences eludes the political radar: the drug war.

I was a frontline soldier in this self-perpetuating, ineffectual effort that has swallowed more than a trillion tax dollars and currently yields nearly 2 million arrests every year for nonviolent offenses. I helped incarcerate some 1,000 young people as part of this irredeemably wrongheaded attempt to arrest our way out of our drug problems. Those arrests will follow them to their graves.

I know they follow me.

But while no other country locks up as large a percentage of its citizens, the specific impact on minority families has been one step short of the reinstitution of slavery: from media portrayals of marijuana-crazed Mexicans, opium-crazed Asians, and cocaine-crazed blacks, this war has always been about race.

The 1980s produced a jump in the number of cocaine-related stories focused on minority use, yielding grave concern and a dramatic increase in the minority prison population. Many people, of course, assumed that minorities were disproportionately involved in drugs. Even a seemingly street-wise show like "The Wire," which correctly abandoned all hope for this war, supported that impression, portraying virtual swarms of drug-involved blacks.

In fact, according to Federal Household Surveys, whites, blacks, and Hispanics use drugs in direct proportion to their percentage of the population. So, for example, blacks, who are 13 percent of our population, account for 13 percent of our drug use. Yet, according to US Bureau of Justice Statistics, of convicted defendants, 33 percent of whites received a prison sentence and 51 percent of African-Americans received prison sentences. Moreover, the US Sentencing Commission found that black drug defendants receive considerably longer average prison terms than do whites for comparable crimes.

This is not a geographical fluke: a 2007 Justice Policy Institute study found that in Florida blacks were 75 times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs while driving than whites; in 1991, blacks were 7 percent of St. Paul's population but 62 percent of those arrested on drug charges; and in Onondaga Country, Syracuse, N.Y., black people are currently 99 times more likely to go to prison for drugs than white people.

There are more black men in US prisons today than there were slaves in 1840, and they are being used for the same purpose; working for private corporations at 16 to 20 cents an hour. Half the states have private, for-profit prisons whose lobbyists are demanding longer mandatory-minimum prison sentences. Indeed, American blacks are incarcerated at nearly eight times the level of South African blacks during the height of apartheid.

Inner-city communities are devastated not by drug use but by the same turf-war street violence that accompanied alcohol prohibition and that dramatically decreased once that drug was legalized and regulated. Almost one in seven African-Americans are denied voting rights largely because of drug arrests, and countless minorities are denied intact families, college loans, driver's licenses, and jobs because of selective enforcement of a prohibition that, even fairly enforced, prevents no one from using drugs.

But things are changing, as resistance grows in precisely those communities hardest hit by this failed policy.

In 2006, the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators passed a resolution condemning the failed war on drugs and calling for treatment rather than incarceration. That resolution was echoed by a similar resolution passed unanimously by all 225 mayors at their national conference in 2007. And a national association of black police officers is expected to officially endorse the call for an end to drug prohibition.

I represent Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an international organization of sworn antidrug warriors who know that we must end this prohibition in order to legalize and regulate all drugs, thus wresting control from the cartels and street thugs who prey on children.

Ending this prohibition is a singularly potent civil rights issue. It is a remarkable movement, led by both white and minority law enforcement officials.

In an election infused with racial overtones, we wonder which politicians will be brave enough to follow.

Jack A. Cole is executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

1 comment:

Morning Star said...

Excellent article. Thank you!