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New Jerseyans Ready to Decriminalize Marijuana, Poll Finds

As New Jersey legislators consider a marijuana decriminalization bill, a new poll suggests strong public support for such a move -- and more. The poll of likely voters conducted by Lake Research Partners for the Drug Policy Alliance found that 61% favored decriminalization and nearly as many (59%) agreed with taxing, regulating, and legalizing marijuana.

"New Jersey voters are ready for aggressive and immediate change of state marijuana laws, with strong majorities supporting decriminalizing up to two ounces of marijuana," said Daniel Gotoff, a partner at Lake Research. "Support for this reform is remarkably broad, including majorities of Democrats, independents, and Republicans, as well as voters from every major region in the state."

The poll comes as the legislature is considering Senate Bill 1977, which would decriminalize the possession of up to 50 grams (slightly less than two ounces) of marijuana and make possession a civil violation carrying a fine similar to a traffic ticket. The bill sponsored by Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union), Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson) is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The release of the poll could be designed to prod the legislature to act on marijuana reform. SB 1977 was filed more than a year ago and still has not been scheduled for a committee hearing. Another measure, Assembly Bill 1465, which would decriminalize up to 15 grams, actually passed the Assembly last June, only to languish in the Senate Judiciary Committee ever since.

Under current New Jersey law, simple marijuana possession is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Conviction on a pot possession charges also creates a criminal record that cannot be expunged for at least five years.

Once an individual is convicted of even a minor possession offense, he or she is subject to a system of legal discrimination that makes it difficult or impossible to secure housing, employment, public assistance, federal student aid for higher education, and even a basic driver's license.

Marijuana possession prosecutions also disproportionately target the Garden State's black population. African-Americans are arrested for pot possession at a rate nearly three times that of whites, even though both groups use marijuana at roughly the same rate.

"More than 22,000 individuals were arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey in 2010 at a cost of more than $125 million dollars," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "New Jerseyans understand that current penalties for marijuana are unfair and wasteful. These laws should be changed now. "

If legislators heed the popular will and pass the decriminalization bill, New Jersey will join 15 other states that have decriminalized pot possession in amounts ranging from half an ounce to three ounces.

Trenton, NJ
United States

Poll of DC Voters Finds Two-Thirds Support Marijuana Legalization

District of Columbia map
Activists planning possible Washington, DC, marijuana reform efforts got some good news this week. A Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday found that three-quarters of DC voters support decriminalizing marijuana possession, two-thirds (67%) think law enforcement resources focused on marijuana should be used elsewhere, and nearly two-thirds (63%) said they would support ballot measures similar to those in Colorado and Washington state, where voters legalized marijuana last November.

DC voters weren't just interested in lessening marijuana law enforcement. A solid majority (54%) said drug use should be treated as a public health issue and people should no longer be arrested and locked up for possession of a small amount of any drug for personal use.

DC-based activists have been meeting about plans to push pot law reforms. The first stop is the city council, but it the council balks, there are also contingency plans for a possible ballot initiative. In interviews earlier this year, activists said they were waiting for polling results before deciding on a course of action. Now they have them.

Adam Eidinger holding "Free Bryan Epis" sign at protest of then drug czar John Walters, 2002 (drugwar.com)
"As a 20-year DC resident, I know scores of people who have been humiliated with an arrest and have even spent time in jail for possessing small quantities of marijuana," said longtime District activist and spokesman for Dr. Bronner's Natural Soaps Adam Eidinger. "This new poll confirms that there is little support for laws that criminalize marijuana consumers in the District and they are due for repeal. We hope it inspires the Council to craft meaningful marijuana policy reform legislation, but in either case a change in the law appears to be inevitable."

"District voters, like most Americans, think it is time for a new, more sensible approach to marijuana policy," said Steve Fox of the DC-based Marijuana Policy Project. "People should not be subjected to life-altering criminal penalties simply for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol. Harsh criminal penalties should be reserved for serious criminals, and our law enforcement resources should be reserved for addressing serious crimes."

"DC voters clearly want to end the failed war on drugs," said Bill Piper, DC-based national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Decriminalizing marijuana is a no-brainer, but the Council should do more. There is an opportunity to make a clean break from the past and treat drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue. More access to treatment and health services. No more putting people in jail."

The ball is in the DC City Council's court, but if elected representatives fail to act, the threat of direct democracy via the initiative process looms.

Washington, DC
United States

House Members File Bipartisan "Respect States' Marijuana Laws Act" [FEATURE]

A bi-partisan group of US representatives led by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) Friday introduced legislation that would end the enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that have either legalized it or adopted medical marijuana laws. That would bring 18 medical marijuana states and two legalization states -- Colorado and Washington -- out from under the shadow of the Controlled Substances Act when it comes to marijuana law reform.

Dana Rohrabacher
The bill is H.R. 1523, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act. It was not yet available online as of the original press time, but is now.

"This bipartisan bill represents a common-sense approach that establishes federal government respect for all states' marijuana laws," said Rohrabacher. "It does so by keeping the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities in states that don't want it to be criminal."

Joining Rohrabacher as cosponsors of the bill were Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Don Young (R-AK).

That brings to at least five the number of marijuana reform bills introduced in the 113th Congress, six if you count an industrial hemp bill. Three of those bills deal with medical marijuana, one with the ability of states to tax marijuana commerce, and one would end federal marijuana prohibition.

Reps. Polis, Blumenauer, Rohrabacher, and others also introduced that latter bill, House Bill 499, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, H.R. 499, which would set up a federal regulatory process -- similar to the one for alcohol -- for states that decide to legalize. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has said he will hold hearings to examine Colorado and Washington’s new marijuana laws and explore potential federal reforms.

Marijuana law reform efforts in the Congress are being propelled not only by the continuing spread of medical marijuana laws and the impressive victories in Colorado and Washington -- each state saw 55% of voters approve legalization -- but also by ever-mounting evidence that public opinion nationwide is swinging in favor of legalization, and against federal interference in states undertaking marijuana law reforms.

A Pew poll released earlier this month had support for marijuana legalization at 52%, the highest ever for a Pew poll and the first time a Pew poll showed majority support for legalization. Five other recent opinion polls have shown support for legalization hovering at the tipping point, with two of them just under 50%, one at 50%, one at 54%, and one at 57%.

That same Pew poll also found considerable skepticism about enforcing the marijuana laws, with 72% agreeing that "government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth" and 60% saying that the federal government should not try to enforce marijuana laws in states where it is legal.

"The people have spoken and members of Congress are taking action," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This bill takes conservative principles and applies them to marijuana policy; in terms of the national debate it’s potentially a game-changer."

"This bill is a win for federalism and a win for public safety," said Neill Franklin, a former Maryland narcotics detective and now executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "In a time of bitter partisanship, it is quite telling that both Republicans and Democrats are calling for respect for the reform of marijuana laws. Polls show this is a winning issue for politicians, and change is inevitable. We applaud those legislators who, rather than trying to impede this progress, stand with the vast majority of Americans who believe these laws should be respected."

"Marijuana prohibition is on its last legs because most Americans no longer support it," said Steve Fox, national political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "This legislation presents a perfect opportunity for members to embrace the notion that states should be able to devise systems for regulating marijuana without their citizens having to worry about breaking federal law. If a state chooses to take marijuana sales away from cartels and the criminal market and put them in the hands of legitimate, tax-paying businesses, it should be able to do so without federal interference."

"We've reached a tipping point," said Jasmine Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, "and it is time Congress acknowledge what voters, law enforcement, and state officials have been telling us for years: the feds should stop wasting money interfering when the states are more than capable of regulating marijuana effectively."

Even though this and the other federal marijuana reform bills have been introduced with bipartisan support, their future in the Republican-dominated House this session is murky at best. Some key committee chairs, such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), head of the House Judiciary Committee, are very hostile to any reform efforts. But the pressure is mounting.

Washington, DC
United States

Pew Poll Finds Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization

For the first time since the Pew Research Center started polling on the question 40 years ago, it has found that a majority of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. In a Pew poll released Thursday, 52% supported legalization, with only 45% opposed.

The Pew results are in line with other recent polls on the topic. Five polls released in December showed marijuana legalization hovering on the cusp of majority support. Those polls had support at 47%, 48%, 50%, 54%, and 57%, respectively.

The Pew poll found majority support for marijuana legalization among Democrats, independents, and liberal and moderate Republicans. There was also majority support among all age groups except those before the Baby Boom generation.

The gender gap continues to be evident. Some 57% of men supported legalization, but only 48% of women.

The poll also found considerable skepticism about enforcing the marijuana laws, with 72% agreeing that "government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth" and 60% saying that the federal government should not try to enforce marijuana laws in states where it is legal.

Drug reformers liked the poll results.

"I've always tended to be cautious in claiming that we've hit the 'tipping point' on marijuana legalization," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But we're there now. And I'd say we're trailing marriage equality by just a half-step, even if far fewer elected officials are willing to join publicly with us as yet."
 

The Pew poll has lots and lots of informative detail. It's worth clicking on the link above to check it out.

Slim Majority Favors Marijuana Legalization in California Poll

A Field poll of California voters released Wednesday had support for marijuana legalization at 54%, the highest number ever for a Field poll. Only 43% opposed legalization. The same poll reported that two-thirds of Californians want the federal government to end its crackdown on medical marijuana providers.

While the 54% in favor of legalization is the highest ever for Field, it is not high enough to make potential initiative organizers or contributors feel sanguine. The conventional wisdom about initiative experts is that they should be polling at 60% or above at the beginning of the campaign. However, it will be a few years before Californians are likely to vote on legalization again, and support for legalization has only continued to increase in recent years.

Proposition 19 in 2010 typically polled in the 50s in the run-up to the election last year before losing on election day with 47% of the vote. That year, the final Field poll to ask about marijuana legalization, four months ahead of the election, had support at 50%, but as is typical in initiative campaigns, support wavered at the end.

This week's Field poll found support for legalization at 60% or above for San Francisco Bay Area residents (66%), single people (64%), men (62%), voters under 40 (60%), and African- and Asian-Americans (60%).

Support was lowest among Latinos (41%), Republicans (42%), voters 65 and older (43%), and women (46%).

Californians strongly support their medical marijuana system, the poll found. In addition to the 67% calling on the federal government to end its crackdown, 72% said they favor the state's medical marijuana law. That figure, however, was down two points from 2004 and 2010 Field polls.

Some 58% of respondents would allow dispensaries in their communities. Support for dispensaries was highest in the Bay Area (65%) and lowest in "other Southern California" (San Diego, the Inland Empire and Central Valley).

CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

From the village board to the halls of Congress, medical marijuana is popping up all over. And there's action at various state houses, too. Let's get to it:

National

Last weekend, Americans for Safe Access hosted the National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference in Washington, DC. The conference featured numerous panelists, as well as lobbying on Capitol Hill.

On Monday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the States' Medical Marijuana Patients Protection Act (House Resolution 689) at a press conference surrounded by attendees at the National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference. The bill would get the federal government out of states where medical marijuana is legal.

Arizona

Last Thursday, an unapproved dispensary was shut down in Kingman and its proprietors arrested on a variety of marijuana-related and weapons charges. Police seized several pounds of marijuana, $7,000 in cash, and a shotgun.

California

Earlier this month, Shasta County moved a lawsuit filed against it by a medical marijuana collective from state to federal court, and the attorney representing county supervisors has already filed a motion there to dismiss it. The Medicine Man Collective Spiritual Center Corporation sued in state Superior Court in January, naming the supervisors, the county sheriff, and three deputies as defendants. The suit charges that the county conspired to deprive the collective of its contractual, constitutional and state rights by enacting a ban on dispensaries. The collective closed its Main Street doors in May 2011 after being evicted following implementation of the ban in 2010 and its finalization the following year.

Last Thursday, the LA city council voted to approve a third dispensary measure for the May ballot. This third measure is the council's own and would allow about 100 dispensaries to stay open, restrict them from locating near schools and churches, and increase taxes on them. One of the other measures would allow a similar number of dispensaries to stay open, while the other would allow most of the hundreds of currently existing dispensaries to stay open. The initiatives come after the council tried to impose a total ban last year.

On Tuesday, Butte County supervisors adopted a cultivation ordinance. The measure prohibits outdoor marijuana gardens on lots smaller than 0.5 acre. It allows up to 12 plants (six mature and six immature) on parcels larger than 0.5 acre but smaller than 1.5 acre. On parcels smaller than 3 acres, 36 plants (18 mature and 18 immature) are allowed. The total allowable number of plants tops out at 99 on property larger than 40 acres. The gardens have set-back requirements that increase as the lots grow, and the plants have to be screened from view with fencing. Grows are prohibited within 1,000 feet of schools and parks. The growers have to be able to prove they have been county residents for a year, and there has to be written proof the landowner is aware of the garden and approves of its existence. The ordinance allows  indoor gardens in free-standing buildings of 120 square feet on lots anywhere in county jurisdiction.

Florida

On Tuesday, a statewide poll had support for medical marijuana at 69%. The poll showed strong support among Democrats and independents and even among Republicans, 56% of whom said they supported marijuana. The poll comes as its sponsor, People United for Medical Marijuana, pushes for medical marijuana to come to the Sunshine State.

On Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. The bill is Senate Bill 1250.

Iowa

On Sunday, a statewide poll found that 58% support legalizing medical marijuana. That's down six points from a similar poll in 2010. The poll comes as the Iowa legislature considers medical marijuana bills.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Westborough Board of Health supported zoning for dispensaries. The board did not reach agreement on whether Westborough should ban dispensaries or whether to zone or ban home grows for medical use. The town planning board has already proposed a zoning bylaw that would ban both dispensaries and home grows. It goes before voters at the annual town meeting on March 16.

Montana

Last Thursday, two more medical marijuana providers were sentenced to federal prison terms. Ross Pattison and Brandon Strecker were partners in Eastern Montana Cannabis. Pattison got 20 months and Strecker got a year and a day. They are only the latest Montana medical marijuana providers to be sent to federal prison after a spring 2011 crackdown by the DEA and the Justice Department.

Nevada

Last Friday, legislators held a hearing on problems with access to medical marijuana. During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, members acknowledged that it is almost impossible for the state's 3,600 card holders to acquire their medicine. Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) said after the hearing that he soon will introduce a bill to set up a regulated system where marijuana is grown at farms and then distributed and taxed through licensed dispensaries.

New Hampshire

Last Thursday, a House committee held a hearing on a pending medical marijuana bill. The bill, House Bill 573, would allow patients to grow up to four plants or obtain their medicine through one of five state-licensed dispensaries. Similar bills have twice passed the legislature since 2007, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. John Lynch (D). New Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) supported the bills as a legislator, but has expressed concerns that the system be tightly regulated.

Oklahoma

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill died in the legislature. The bill, Senate Bill 710, would have allowed patients to possess up to eight ounces and grow up to 12 plants. It would also have allowed state-sanctioned collectives. It was killed in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee after members heard testimony. The bill was defeated 6-2 in a party line vote.

Washington

On Monday, the Spokane city council approved a six-month moratorium on new dispensaries. The council feared a proliferation of marijuana businesses before the state finishes writing its rules for legal non-medical marijuana commerce. Spokane currently has about a dozen dispensaries.

Brits Want Marijuana Reforms, Drug Policy Review

According to a new Ipsos Mori poll, a majority of Britons favor either decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana and two-thirds support a comprehensive review of all the options for controlling drugs, from legalization to tougher enforcement.

The poll found that 53% of those surveyed supported either decriminalization or one form or another of legalization. Legalization, whether under "strict," "moderate," or "minimal" control, was supported by 41%, and decriminalization by 12%.

Only 35% favored the status quo (21%) or harsher treatment of marijuana (14%). Eight percent had no opinion and 4% said "I have never heard of this drug."

Britain down-scheduled marijuana from a Class B to a Class C drug in 2004, but reversed course in 2008, placing it back on the more serious Class B amid rising fears of the dangers of "skunk" marijuana, Britain's generic term for high-potency, domestically-produced weed. 

When it comes to other drugs, a majority (60%) favored the status quo, while only slightly more than one-third (36%) favored either decriminalization (14%) or a pilot decriminalization program (21%).

But more than two-thirds of respondents (67%) wanted a comprehensive independent review of Britain's drug policies. Support cut across party lines, with 69% of Labor supporters and 70% of Conservative supporters calling for a review of drug policy.

Britain's Conservative-led government has shown distinct disinterest in revisiting the country's drug policies, although that has led to some friction with its Liberal Democrat junior partners.

"These results just show how far ahead of politicians the public are," said the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which commissioned the poll. "Whilst Labor and Conservative politicians shy away from the debate on drugs, around half of their supporters want to see legal regulation of cannabis production and supply or decriminalization of cannabis possession, and a significant majority want a comprehensive review of our approach to drugs -- including consideration of legal regulation," the group said.

"Politicians have repeated their 'tough on drugs' propaganda for so long that they assume the public are more fearful of change than they really are," Transform said. "In fact the world has changed, and the public are far more progressive than was thought, right across the political spectrum. At the very least the government should heed long standing and growing calls for a review of all policy options, including legal regulation. And as a matter of urgency the coalition should engage in experiments in the Portuguese style decriminalization of possession of drugs for personal use. Now is the time for the heads of all parties to show the leadership citizens surely deserve."

United Kingdom

Poll: Feds Should Leave Legal Marijuana States Alone

Strong majorities of Americans believe people should be able to use, grow, and sell marijuana in states where it is legal, according to a new Reason Foundation-Rupe poll. Nearly three out of four (72%) said pot smokers should not be arrested in those states, more than two-thirds (68%) said the federal government should not arrest growers in those states, and nearly two-thirds (64%) said it should not arrest sellers.

The poll comes in the wake of last November's marijuana legalization victories in Colorado and Washington and as the Obama administration contemplates its response. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The poll consisted of a representative sample of 1,000 American adults interviewed by telephone, half by landline and half by cell phone. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.8%.It was conducted between January 17 and 21.

Although it is Republicans who typically make states' rights or federalist arguments, Republicans had the highest level of support for federal interference in states that have legalized marijuana. In all three cases -- using, growing, or selling marijuana -- independents and Democrats were more likely to say the federal government should not interfere.

The poll also asked two questions about marijuana legalization, one about whether it should be treated like alcohol and one about whether it should be legalized for recreational use. While the two questions are essentially identical, they generated slightly different responses, showing yet again that marijuana legalization is on the cusp of majority acceptance (and that the phrasing of polling questions matters).

Some 53% agreed that marijuana should be treated like alcohol, but only 47% agreed that recreational use should be legalized. Majorities of Democrats (57%) and independents (58%), but not Republicans (35%), agreed with "like alcohol," while only a majority of independents (59%) supported legalization for recreational use, with support at only 46% for Democrats and 25% among Republicans.

Gender and age differences also remained. Support for legalization was higher among men (52%) than women (42%), and there was majority support for legalization among all age groups except people over 65, two-thirds of whom opposed it.

Slim Majority of New Yorkers Say Legalize Marijuana

A Quinnipiac poll released last Friday has New Yorkers supporting marijuana legalization by a narrow majority. The poll found 51% supported marijuana legalization, with 44% opposed.

That puts New York in line with the rest of the country, where most post-election polls are showing support for legalization at over 50%. Those polls come in the wake of victories for the Amendment 64 and Initiative 502 marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington, respectively.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been pushing marijuana decriminalization, but the Quinnipiac poll suggests New Yorkers are ahead of their political leaders on the issue of marijuana reform.

New York City has achieved notoriety as the marijuana arrest capital of the world, with the NYPD arresting tens of thousands of mainly young black and brown men each year. Despite recent reforms, those numbers have yet to significantly decrease.

In a report released last month, Human Rights Watch found that between 1996 and 2011, the NYPD arrested more than 563,000 people for possession of marijuana in public (typically after police intimidate them into emptying their pockets and revealing their baggies), including nearly 100,000 in 2010 and 2011 alone. Neither Mayor Michael Bloomberg nor the NYPD "has ever provided a detailed justification for the high number of marijuana arrests, suggesting only that the arrests improve public safety," the report noted.

But the report also examined the subsequent criminal histories of the 2003 and 2004 cohorts of New York City pot possession arrestees. It found that more than 90% of them had not subsequently been arrested on a felony charge.

The Quinnipiac poll found majority support for legalization in New York City (54%) and its suburbs (50%), and a plurality (49%) for legalization upstate. Majorities supported freeing the weed in every age group except seniors, while majorities of Democrats (56%) and independents (57%) also favored legalization. Only 33% of Republicans did.

Men were more likely to support legalization (56%) than women (47%), while people with college degrees were more likely to support it (58%) than those without (47%). People who identified themselves as belonging to a religious denomination had levels of support ranging from 46% to 48%, while 70% of those who said they had no religion supported legalization.

Gov. Cuomo has been talking decriminalization. Given last month's election results and this month's polling, perhaps he should raise his sights.

The poll contacted 1,302 New York state voters between December 5 and 10 and asked"Do you think that the use of marijuana should be made legal in New York State, or not?" The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.7 percentage points.

NY
United States

Majority Says Feds Should Stay Out of Marijuana Legalization States

A slight majority of adults say the federal government should not attempt to enforce federal marijuana laws in states which have voted to legalize it, according to a new YouGov poll. Some 51% of respondents said the federal government should "exempt adults who follow state law from enforcement."

The poll was conducted December 5 and 6 among 1,000 adults. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.4%.

The poll comes as the Obama administration ponders how to respond to last month's passage of marijuana legalization measures Amendment 64 in Colorado and I-502 in Washington. While possession of up to an ounce by adults became legal last week in Washington and will become legal within weeks in Colorado, both states have a matter of months to come up with regulatory structures for commercial marijuana cultivation and distribution.

There has been speculation that the administration may attempt to block the regulatory and tax components on the initiatives, but this poll suggest little support for that among the public.

Fewer than one-third (30%) of respondents said the federal government should "enforce the drugs laws the same way it does in other states," while an unusually high 20% of respondents were not sure.

This is the second poll this month to find a majority saying the question of legalization should be left to the states. A CBS News poll last week  had 59% of respondents saying it should be up to the states. Like the YouGuv poll, this poll had only about one-third (34%) saying it should be up to the federal government.

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