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Faith Leaders Issue Easter Statement on War on Drugs, Mass Incarceration [FEATURE]

A broad coalition of Christian leaders have taken the occasion of the holiest day on the Christian calendar to release an Easter statement calling for the end of the war on drugs and mass incarceration. They said they chose the Easter season to release their statement because of the spirit of the Resurrection, which Easter commemorates and celebrates.

The Rev. Edwin Sanders (cannabisculture.com)
The statement calls for repealing laws that criminalize drug possession and replacing them with policies that expand access to effective health approaches to drug use, including evidence-based drug treatment.

It also calls for the elimination of policies that result in racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates and that that unjustly exclude people with a record of arrest or conviction from key rights and opportunities.

The United States is the world leader in incarceration, accounting for 25% of the global prison population while only making up 5% of the planet's population. In state prisons, drug offenders typically make up 20-30% of all prisoners, although that proportion has begun declining as nearly half the states have undertaken sentencing reforms in recent years.

But while state prison population numbers have begun a slight decline, the federal prison population continues to increase, driven in large part by the war on drugs. As of this month, there were more than 216,000 federal prisoners, with just more than half (50.1%) doing time for drug crimes, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

"The cross that faith leaders are imploring others to take up is this unjust and immoral war on drugs and mass incarceration of the poor. In particular, poor black and brown young adults whose futures are being ruined at the most critical point in their lives," said Reverend John E. Jackson of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.

"We are guided by our religious principles to serve those in need and give voice to those who have been marginalized and stigmatized by unjust policies. We cannot sit silently while a misguided war is waged on entire communities, ostensibly under the guise of combating the very real harms of drug abuse. The war on drugs has become a costly, ineffective and unjust failure," says Reverend Edwin Sanders, who is a Board Member of the Drug Policy Alliance and the Senior Servant for the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

More than 100,000 people are doing time for drug offenses in federal prisons (wikimedia/chris piner)
"We are called upon to follow Jesus's example in opposing the war on drugs, which has resulted in the United States becoming the world's biggest jailer," added Sanders.

"Resurrection reality commissions and commands us to change these policies, laws and systems that rob whole communities of their most precious resource, their young. These are the ones Jesus faced betrayal, denial and desertion for. These are the ones Jesus gave up everything for. These are the issues Jesus was raised from a 3 day grave to speak truth to power to through our voices, through our crying loud and sparing not and through our organized efforts," added Jackson.

The story of the prodigal son is appropriate to ponder, said Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, Founder and Executive Director of The Ordinary Peoples Society, in Dothan, Alabama, himself a former drug war prisoner.

"The story of the prodigal son says he went out and lived a riotous life, like somebody who committed a crime or was on drugs or got incarcerated," said Glasgow. "The father of the prodigal son embraced him with open arms, but as a society, we don't do that. We incarcerate instead of trying to treat or restore. His father gave him shoes on his feet and a coat of many colors. These are things we're not doing when it comes to mass incarceration and the war on drugs."

Pastor Kenneth Glasgow (theordinarypeoplesociety.org)
The struggle against the war on drugs is a fight for civil rights and democracy, said Glasgow.

"After they gave us civil rights, they came along with the drug war and took our voting rights back," he said, referring to the hundreds of thousands who have had voted rights restricted or denied after being convicted of drug offenses.

There are concrete steps to take, said several speakers.

"We want to repeal the laws that criminalize drug possession and replace them with effective approaches, and put an end to any policy that unjustly excludes people because they have a previous criminal conviction," said the Rev Michael McBride, Director of Urban Strategies, Lifelines to Healing, Berkeley, California.

"We are fighting a righteous fight and standing in solidarity in the Holy Week to call for an end to the war on drugs and mass incarceration," McBride added. "We are organizing hundreds of faith congregations across the country to build a faith and moral movement to address and redress these unjust policies. Holy Week reminds us that death does not have a final say, but that God is able to bring redemption for the worst things that happen in our lives. Mass incarceration is the civil rights issue of our generation, and the faith community is in the forefront."

"For those of us who follow Jesus, this is the time to receive his grace, but also to receive his calling," said Bill Mefford, director of Civil and Human Rights for the United Methodist Church, which has been at the forefront of the faith community's challenge to the drug war. "It is time to proclaim relief for the captives and freedom for the oppressed. Unfortunately, because we are the world's leader in incarceration, we don't have to look far," he noted.

Mefford is the chairman of an interfaith coalition working on Capitol Hill to reform the criminal justice system. It represents 35 faith organizations with millions of members.

"There are steps we can take to rescue ourselves from our own captivity," Medford continued. "We can pass the Smarter Sentencing Act as an incremental step toward justice reform that will address costly overcrowding at the Bureau of Prisons by cutting in half mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug offenses."

The Smarter Sentencing Act has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits a Senate floor vote. It has yet to move in the GOP-controlled House.

As Holy Week looms, it is indeed appropriate to ask that rhetorical question. When it comes to dealing with drug use and the drug trade, what would Jesus do?

New York City, NY
United States

Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up More GOP Cosponsors

A sentencing reform measure pending in Congress has picked up more support from four more Republican members of the House this month. The Smarter Sentencing Act (House Resolution 3382/Senate Bill 1410) now has 26 cosponsors, including 10 Republicans. The Senate version of the bill was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in January.

The bill, which is supported by the administration, would direct federal judges to not sentence some drug offenders to mandatory minimum sentences, reduces mandatory minimum sentences for other drug offenders, and applies the more lenient crack cocaine sentencing scheme under the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act to crack offenders sentenced before it was passed.

It also calls on the US Sentencing Commission to amend its sentencing guidelines and policy statements for drug offenders to minimize federal prison overcrowding and reduce and prevent racial disparities in sentencing, but at the same time directs that "penalties for violent and serious drug traffickers who present public safety risks remain appropriately severe."

The act is currently before the House Judiciary Committee. Bill sponsor Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) recently held a Republican Study Committee session on the bill, which resulted in four new GOP members signing on in one day.

The new cosponsors are Reps. Bill Huizenga (R-MI), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Mark Sanford (R-SC), and Chris Stewart (R-UT). For a complete list of sponsors, click here.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- April 9, 2014

Attorney General Holder was on the pot-seat in Congress yesterday, New Jersey's legalization bill looks to have an uphill battle with public opinion, there's a psychedelic conference in Massachusetts this weekend, Uruguay is going to give medical marijuana to prisoners, and more. Let's get to it:

Trip the light fantastic at a conference on psychedelics at UMass-Amherst this weekend. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Holder Defends Administration Response to Marijuana, But Refuses to Go Further. Facing critics from both sides of the debate, Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday defended the administration's rather laissez-faire approach to marijuana legalization at the state level, but declined to go further to please reform supporters by taking executive branch action to reschedule the herb. He was appearing before the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the link for more details and some of the repartee.

GOP Congressman Calls for Republicans to Nominate Presidential Candidate With States' Rights Position on Marijuana. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said Tuesday that the Republican Party should field a presidential candidate who supports states' rights to legalize marijuana -- as part of a broader states' rights agenda that also includes scrapping the Department of Education. "I think we ought to look for a presidential candidate who will make that part of his message," he said. "Just transfer it all to the states. Now this government would have nothing to do with education, and how about, from now on, drug laws are considered criminal matters, which is what our Founding Fathers had in mind, and that is up to the states." Rohrabacher also claimed (rather fancifully, unfortunately) that "Reagan did not want to put people in jail. He did not want to militarize our county in order to stop people from smoking weed."

Poll Finds New Jersey Evenly Split on Legalization, Less Support for Actual Bill. A new Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll has support for legalizing small amounts of marijuana at 48%, with 47% opposed. But when asked specifically about supporting a pot legalization bill, Senate Bill 1896, recently introduced by Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Middlesex), only 36% were in favor, with 49% opposed. "Obviously, New Jerseyans are really split on the idea of legalizing marijuana and are unsure about the specifics of the Scutari proposal," said Patrick Murray, director of the polling institute.

Medical Marijuana

Supporters Rally as New Hampshire Senate Considers Home Cultivation. Supporters of cannabis for therapeutic use are rallying in Concord this morning behind a bill that would allow for a limited home cultivation of marijuana plants for qualifying patients. The bill, House Bill 1622, would allow two mature plants per patient, and the authorization would be only until a licensed cannabis dispensary opens within 30 miles of their residence.

Missouri House Committee Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. A Missouri House committee has advanced legislation allowing the use of a cannabis extract by people whose epilepsy is not relieved by other treatments. House Bill 2238 passed the House General Laws Committee and is now set for a hearing in the House Rules Committee tomorrow.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription Drug Monitoring Bill Derailed in Oklahoma. A bill that would require doctors to check their patients' drug histories before writing narcotic prescriptions was derailed Tuesday by a House committee chairman, but sponsors expressed hope they could keep the issue alive. Rep. David Derby, chairman of the House Public Health Committee, would not let the bill be heard Tuesday during his panel's last scheduled meeting before a deadline for committee approval. He said he was concerned about several elements of the bill, including a provision that could allow the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to fine physicians $2,000 for failing to check the online Prescription Monitoring Program. The measure is House Bill 3030.

Psychedelics

Psychedelic Conference This Weekend at UMass-Amherst. Psychedelic and research and policy experts will speak on issues relating to the role of psychedelics in culture, medicine and science at the Psymposium 2014: The Nature of Psychedelics conference. The conference will be held at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst on April 12 & 13 and is open to the public. Click on the link for all the details.

Law Enforcement

Another Lawsuit Filed Against Crooked Suburban Chicago Cops. Another lawsuit has been filed against the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg and three of its former undercover tactical narcotics officers, who have been accused of selling illegal drugs they seized from dealers. Xavier Neodina filed the suit Monday in federal court claiming police used falsified information to get a search warrant for his home, that he was then arrested and sexually assaulted while being held in the Cook County Jail, and the officers "intentionally schemed and worked together" to set him up. This is the fourth lawsuit filed against Schaumburg and its crooked cops. At least a dozen people convicted of drug offenses have been cleared of charges. One of the cops has been sentenced to 12 years in prison, while two others face trial later this month.

International

Uruguay to Provide Prisoners with Medical Marijuana. Prisoners in the jails of Uruguay will be able to use marijuana if a doctor says it will benefit their health. Uruguay's drug czar, Julio Calzada, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that any inmates with doctors' orders will be prescribed marijuana to improve their physical or mental health.

Chronicle AM -- April 4, 2014

Cops like to say they don't make the laws; they merely enforce them, but that wasn't exactly the case today in Louisiana, Oregon, and Washington, DC. Plus, decrim has a last hurrah in Maryland, an Alabama welfare drug testing bill passes, Vermont moves against the new pain reliever Zohydro, and more. Let's get to it:

Politicians worry about the dangers of Zohydro, but they have little to say about its benefits.
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Legislators Try to Revive Decriminalization Bill Today. An effort was underway in Annapolis Friday to revive a decriminalization bill just days after it was scuttled in committee. The effort to revive House Bill 879 is being led by members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who will try to amend the bill on the House floor. It was turned from a decriminalization bill to a study bill earlier this week in the House Criminal Justice Committee, chaired by reform foe Rep. Joe Vallario (D-Prince Georges).

Louisiana Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill Derailed. Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) has pulled his measure to soften marijuana penalties from consideration in the House Criminal Justice Committee after testimony by the head of the Louisiana Sheriffs Association. Association executive director Michael Ranatza said sheriffs fear the bill, House Bill 14, could lead to decriminalization of marijuana. Louisiana has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country.

Oregon State Police Withdraw from Anti-Marijuana Summit. The Oregon State Police have withdrawn from an anti-marijuana conference scheduled for later this month after the police superintendent learned the event is closed to the public. OSP was listed as a cosponsor of the summit, which includes sheriffs from Malheur and Yamhill counties, a Medford police official and law enforcement officials from Colorado, Washington and Arizona, as well as anti-drug reform groups such as Drug Watch International, Save Our Society from Drugs, and the Drug Free America Foundation.

Medical Marijuana

Ammiano Reintroduces California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill. San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D) has reintroduced his medical marijuana regulation bill. The new bill is Assembly Bill 1894. The previous version, Assembly Bill 604 had been pending in the Senate. The major change is the addition of language authorizing limited local transaction and use taxes.

Connecticut Picks Locations for Six Dispensaries. Locations for Connecticut's six medical marijuana dispensaries have been selected, the state Consumer Protection Commissioner said Thursday. The facilities in Branford, Bridgeport, Bristol, Hartford, South Windsor and Uncasville were authorized by the state's medical marijuana program to dispense Connecticut-produced marijuana products.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Says Texas Can't Make Drug Tests a Condition for Receiving Unemployment Benefits. The US Labor Department has ruled that Texas cannot enforce a law passed by the Legislature in 2013 which makes passing a drug test a requirement for some workers to get and keep unemployment compensation benefits. The law was watered down by the legislature to cover only people who are in professions where drug testing is a requirement, like truck driving and nursing. The feds say the law as it is written is too vague and it is unclear exactly what workers will qualify.

Alabama Legislature Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The legislature has approved a bill that would require welfare applicants who have a drug conviction in the last five years to undergo drug testing before receiving benefits. People could keep their benefits after one positive drug test. After a second positive, the person would be ineligible for one year. The recipient would be permanently ineligible after a third positive drug test. Senate Bill 63 now goes to the desk of Gov. Robert Bentley (R).

Harm Reduction

FDA Approves Innovative New Device to Reverse Opiate Overdose. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Evzio, a handheld device containing naloxone, designed for lay people to use outside of hospital settings. When activated, the device will give verbal instructions about how to use Evzio to deliver the medication.

Prescription Opiates

Vermont Issues Emergency Rules to Restrict Access to Zohydro. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) and state officials announced Thursday that Vermont is moving to restrict access to the new opiate pain reliever Zohydro, the first single-ingredient hydrocodone drug approved for patients in the US. New emergency rules require that prescribers of Zohydro conduct a thorough medical evaluation and risk assessment. This is only the latest move against Zohydro, which was approved by the FDA last fall -- Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) banned it outright earlier this week and a handful of congressmen have called for the FDA to reverse its decision. But Zohydro's maker, Zogenix, said the drug is no more potent than other hydrocodone medications. The company also says it has set up a board of experts to guard against abuse of the drug and that its sales representatives are not being paid based on the volume of sales, but rather on their efforts to ensure prescribers, pharmacists and patients are educated to understand the risks and benefits of extended-release opioids Politicians have been quick to raise the alarm about possible increases in addiction and overdose deaths with Zohydro, but they haven't been nearly as quick to talk about its usefulness in addressing the needs of legitimate pain patients.

Sentencing

Who Wants to Kill Sentencing Reform? No Surprises Here. The Huffington Post reports that law enforcement groups including the National Sheriffs' Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, the National Association of Police Organizations and the Major County Sheriffs' Association are quietly trying to kill a bipartisan bill that would roll back tough mandatory sentences for people convicted of federal drug offenses under legislation passed during the height of America's drug war three decades ago. The bill is the Smarter Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1410), which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in January. Click the title link for the full story.

New Report Shows Failure of Connecticut's Sentencing Enhancement Drug Free Zones. A new report from the Prison Policy Initiative finds that Connecticut's 1,500-foot sentencing enhancement zones are so pervasive that they blanket almost all urban areas, creating an "urban penalty" that increases the sentence imposed for a given offense simply because it was committed in a city rather than in a town. The report recommends the sentencing enhancement zones be shrunk to 100 feet. This would allow the law to actually create the specially protected places as intended. Connecticut Senate Bill 259, which just passed out of the Judiciary Committee, takes a similar approach and would decrease that size to 200 feet. The report is Reaching too far: How Connecticut's large sentencing enhancement zones miss the mark." You can read it by clicking on the title link.

Pew Poll Reveals Seismic Shift in Drug Policy Attitudes [FEATURE]

A new national survey released today by the Pew Research Center provides strong evidence that Americans are undergoing a tectonic shift in their views on drug policy. Not only are Americans convinced that marijuana legalization is coming; a majority supports it, and even larger majorities support a fundamental realignment of our drug policies away from the criminal justice system and toward treatment instead of punishment for hard drug users.

rethinking...
Among the key findings of the report was that more than six in ten Americans (63%) say that state governments moving away from mandatory prison terms for drug law violations is a good thing, while just 32% say these policy changes are a bad thing. This is a substantial shift from 2001 when the public was evenly divided (47% good thing vs. 45% bad thing). The majority of all demographic groups, including Republicans and Americans over 65 years old, support this shift.

Similarly, two-thirds (67%) say the government should focus more on providing treatment for people who use drugs like cocaine and heroin. Just 26% think the focus should be more on prosecuting people who use such drugs. The poll did not ask if hard drug users should just be left alone barring harm to others.

"Given that the vast majority of Americans don't think people should be prosecuted for drug possession, it's time to ask the question: Why are we still arresting people for nothing more than drug possession?" asked Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

More than 1.5 million people are arrested in the U.S. every year for a drug law violation. The vast majority -- more than 80% -- are arrested for possession only. Roughly 500,000 Americans are behind bars on any given night for a drug law violation, including more than 55,000 people in state prisons for simple drug possession.

"There's a new consensus that mandatory minimums are no longer appropriate for drug and other nonviolent offenders," said Nadelmann. "This is reflected and confirmed by the growing bipartisan support for rolling back and ending such laws."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/pew-mandatory-minimums-poll.jpg
The passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced, but did not eliminate, sentencing disparities between federal crack and powder cocaine offenders is one example of the emerging reformist consensus. Sentencing reform measures passed by around half the states in the past decade, which have resulted in an absolute decline in state prison populations, have also proven popular with a citizenry increasingly tired of drug war without end.

And President Obama and Attorney General Holder have continued to make a series of moves over the past year indicating that they are serious about reducing mass incarceration and fixing the criminal justice system, including a call from Holder to federal prosecutors to not use mandatory minimum charges if they don't have to.

Likewise, in an otherwise-bitterly-divided Congress, legislators from both sides of the aisle are pushing to reform mandatory minimum drug laws. The reforms are supported by a group of Senators who can only be described as strange bedfellows: Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island).

At the same time, the Pew poll illuminates what has been a major shift in attitudes on whether the use of marijuana should be legal. As recently as four years ago, about half (52%) said they thought the use of marijuana should not be legal; 41% said marijuana use should be legal. Today those numbers are roughly reversed -- 54% favor marijuana legalization while 42% are opposed. Just 16% say it should not be legal for either medical or recreational use.

And no matter respondents' personal feelings for or against marijuana legalization, 75% of them think it is inevitable.

Also, more than two-thirds (69%) said that alcohol was more harmful than marijuana for individuals. And nearly the same number (63%) said alcohol was more harmful to society.

"Leadership is needed to overcome the institutional lethargy and vested interest that have stymied meaningful police and sentencing reform," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "The policies are counterproductive, and too many otherwise law-abiding people are getting caught up in the justice system because of them."

"It is good to know that despite the DEA's best efforts the American people are getting scientifically accurate information about marijuana, and the fact that it is objectively less harmful than alcohol to both individual health and society at large. The increase in support since last year's poll shows that more and more Americans understand it's simply bad public policy to steer adults toward alcohol by punishing those who prefer marijuana as a less harmful alternative," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"Now that three-quarters of Americans understand taxing and regulating marijuana is inevitable, the writing is on the wall. Congress needs to read it and move forward with legislation allowing states to choose more effective policies without federal interference," Riffle added.

While Nadelmann also greeted the poll results, he warned that it should not be used as fuel for even more, if softer, expansion of the criminal justice system.

"It's good to see yet another poll confirm the results of other state and national polls showing majority support for legalizing marijuana," he said. "And it's nice to see that Americans overwhelmingly support treatment-instead-of-incarceration. But it's important to recognize that there has been overwhelming support for treatment-instead-of-incarceration for well over a decade now -- and that we've reached the point where the public needs to be better educated about the benefits of providing treatment outside the criminal justice system rather than within and through it. It would be a shame if this latest poll result were used to promote drug courts and other coercive, abstinence-only programs rather than meaningful treatment in the community."

Chronicle AM -- April 2, 2014

A new Pew Research poll has some surprising and heartening results, Madison (WI) says legalize it, Wisconsin passes a CBD medical marijuana bill, misbehaving cops get noticed, the Russians are griping about the Aghan poppy crop again, and more. Let's get to it:

Aghanistan opium poppy field (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Dane County (Madison), Wisconsin, Voters Say Legalize It. Voters in Dane County approved a non-binding advisory referendum calling on legislators to legalize marijuana in the land of the Cheese Heads. The referendum passed with 64.5% of the vote.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Senate Panel Holds Hearing on Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate General Laws Committee heard testimony on a medical marijuana bill Tuesday, but took no action. The measure, Senate Bill 951, is not expected to pass this session.

Wisconsin CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Legislature. The Wisconsin legislature has approved a CBD medical marijuana bill. Assembly Bill 726 passed the Senate Tuesday, the last day of the legislative session. It had already passed the Assembly.

Drug Policy

Pew Poll Finds Tectonic Shift Underway on Drug Policy. A new Pew Research Center poll finds that the public is ready for a truce in America's long-running drug war. Two-thirds favored treatment over jail for heroin and cocaine users and strong majorities said that alcohol was more harmful than marijuana. Click on the link for full poll results, or read our feature story on it in this issue.

Prescription Drugs

US Senator Calls on DEA to Implement Prescription Drug Take Back Program. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) took to the Senate floor Tuesday to press the DEA to implement a 2010 law based on bipartisan legislation she sponsored. The law expands drug take back programs. "Prescription drug abuse has reached crisis levels and is leading to a spike in heroin abuse as well, and we should spare no effort to reverse this deadly trend," Klobuchar said. "My drug take back law will help keep drugs out of the wrong hands and prevent prescription drug abuse as well as heroin abuse. The Administration needs to implement this common sense law so that we can give families new tools to help fight this devastating epidemic." No word yet on any DEA response.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Occupy Activists Given Drugs By Cops Can Sue, Judge Rules. In a bizarre story out of Minneapolis, a federal judge has ruled that Occupy activists plied with marijuana by Minnesota police doing a drug identification training exercise during the protests can sue. Law enforcement agencies that employed the officers involved had filed a motion to throw out the case, but US District Court Judge John Tunheim rejected the motion, noting that "in light of the clear prohibition on providing illicit drugs to citizens," the agencies "are not entitled to the protection of qualified immunity." Click on the link for all the weird details.

Lawsuit Charges Corruption, Harassment Among Alabama Narcs. A former Walker County deputy who worked for the department's Narcotics Enforcement Team before he was fired has filed a lawsuit against the county and the sheriff charging he was fired for cooperating in an FBI investigation of his boss, who killed himself after stealing drug money to pay personal bills and support his mistress. Click on the link for all the sordid details.

International

Russian Drug Czar Charges NATO Doesn't Care About Afghan Drug Production. NATO's decision to phase out cooperation with Russia in training anti-drug officers for Afghanistan reveals the alliance's unwillingness to really combat drug production in this country, Viktor Ivanov, the chief of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, told Interfax on Wednesday. "This is not surprising. What could you have expected from NATO?" Ivanov said. "NATO has long been pursuing a policy aimed at the presence of its military component in Afghanistan. Now they are pulling out of this country, leaving massive drug production there," Ivanov said. Afghanistan accounts for nearly 90% of the world's illicit opium production, according to the UN.

Chronicle AM -- April 1, 2014

No April Fools' stories here -- the mayor of Washington really did sign a decriminalization bill, the Kentucky legislature really did pass a CBD medical marijuana bill, the US government really won't help Honduras shoot down drug planes, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Mayor Signs Decriminalization Bill. District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray signed the marijuana decriminalization bill already passed by the city council Monday. It's still not quite a done deal, though; it must still get past the Congress, which has 60 days to stop it. We will have a feature story on the signing later today.

California Cannabis Hemp Initiative is Back and Seeking Signatures Again. The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, which failed to meet a signature-gathering deadline earlier this year, has been re-filed and is again seeking to come up with enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The followers of legendary activist Jack Herer have tried each election cycle for years to qualify, but have never managed to do it. They need slightly more than half a million signatures by August.

Medical Marijuana

The Eighth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics to be Held May 8-10; Registration Now in Progress. The medical marijuana organization Patients Out of Time and the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine are sponsoring the conference on the state of the art (and science) on medical marijuana in Portland, Oregon. Click on the link for all the details.

Arizona State Senator Blocks Funding for Long-Sought Medical Marijuana Research. Supporters of medical marijuana research are trying to put state Sen. Kimberly Yee in the hot seat because the Senate Education Committee chairwoman is blocking a bill that would allow monies collected under the state's medical marijuana program to be used to help fund an approved trial of medical marijuana for treating PTSD in veterans. The bill is House Bill 2333, which has already passed the House. A demonstration is set for tomorrow in Phoenix. Click on the title link for more details.

Kentucky Legislature Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Monday gave final approval to a bill that would allow research hospitals to prescribe CBD cannabis oil to children with seizures. Senate Bill 124 now goes to the desk of Gov. Steve Beshear (D).

Medical Marijuana Dropped from New York State Budget. On Saturday, Governor Cuomo, Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate Co-Presidents Dean Skelos and Jeffrey Klein announced that they had reached a budget agreement, but the deal excluded a medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act. The Assembly had included the proposal as part of their one-house budget bill, but the Senate and governor refused to include the bill in the final budget. The Compassionate Care Act has passed the Assembly four times, has bipartisan support in the Senate, and is supported by a super-majority of New York voters. But Senate leaders have refused to let the bill come up for a vote.

Oregon Health Authority Rethinks, Revises Rules to Allow Edibles, But. The Oregon Health Authority on Monday issued revised rules for marijuana-infused products, allowing the sale of baked goods and other sweets but banning marijuana-laced sweets "attractive to minors." The authority had recently issued draft rules banning edibles, but backed off in the face of strong opposition.

Puerto Rico Senate Debating Medical Marijuana. The Puerto Rican Senate is currently discussing the legalization of marjhuana for medical use and its cultivation. Advocates of the move argue legalization will dramatically cut crime and legal costs on the Caribbean Island. Click on the link for more details.

Prescription Drugs

Congressman Wants to Ban Zohydro. Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch has filed a bill that would ban Zohydro, the powerful opioid pain reliever recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The bill is House Resolution 4241. Similar legislation has been filed in the Senate by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-VA).

Law Enforcement

Portland, Oregon, Commissioner Wants to Slash Dope Squad Funding. Portland Commissioner Steve Novick is working to convince his colleagues to cut half of the money budgeted for Portland Police Bureau's Drugs and Vice Division, arguing that other city services demand higher priority -- such as disaster preparedness and pedestrian safety. He argues that the division is engaged in a "failed 40-year effort to interrupt the supply of drugs." He makes his case before the commission today.

International

US Won't Help Honduras Shoot Down Suspected Drug Planes. The US will no longer provide radar information that could help the Honduran government shoot down suspected drug planes, US embassy officials in Tegucigalpa confirmed Monday. Honduras passed a law in January that allows military force against suspected drug planes if approved by the Honduran defense secretary.

Britain to Set Drugged Driving Per Se Standards. The British government is about to set drugged driving standards for a number of substances, some legal and some not. These are not "zero tolerance" standards, but will allow drivers to have small amounts of the substances in their blood without triggering drugged driving charges. Click on the link to see the limits for various substances.

Chronicle AM -- March 17, 2014

Alaska state agencies complain that legalization will cost money (and they want some of it), Vermont cops complain the governor is soft on pot, federal prosecutors complain about reforming mandatory minimums, and more. Let's get to it:

What will keep this Rasta smiling? Jamaican ganja farmers have some ideas. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Cannabis Hemp Initiative Dead for 2014. The number of active marijuana legalization initiatives in California has dropped to one after the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative failed to qualify for the ballot by its signature-gathering deadline. That leaves only the Marijuana Control, Legalization & Revenue Act, which, barring a miracle, isn't going to make the ballot, either. It needs 504,000 valid voter signatures by April 18, but only has 10,000. The big money is waiting for 2016 in California.

FBI Refuses to Do Washington State Marijuana Industry Background Checks. The FBI is refusing to do criminal history background checks on people applying for legal marijuana licenses in Washington state, even though it has done such checks in Colorado. The agency has balked for the past year at requests from state officials, and refused to tell the Associated Press why. The state has issued three licenses so far; for those, they relied on background checks by the Washington State Patrol, which would catch in-state criminal convictions, but might miss out-of-state ones.

Alaska Agencies Claim Legalization Will Cost Millions. In a new report, Alaska state agencies said that if the marijuana legalization initiative passes there, it will cost the state between $3.7 million and $7 million to implement and enforce the new law. Included in that figure are law enforcement requests for "at least three additional Alaska State Trooper positions to target the illegal diversion and exportation of marijuana lawfully cultivated in Alaska" and nearly $1.5 million for a media campaign to warn of stoned driving and training for troopers to recognize when a driver is high. The report doesn't address increased tax revenues from legalization.

Vermont Cops Accuse Governor of Being Soft on Pot. The Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police, Vermont Sheriffs Association and the Vermont Police Association said in a press release Friday that they are united against efforts for marijuana legalization and that, while they have previously expressed concern about Gov. Peter Shumlin's (D) "tolerance of marijuana," their concerns had been ignored. They also called marijuana "a gateway drug."

Washington Legislature Approves Sale of Hash and Hash Oil. The state legislature has approved a bill that would legalize the sale of hashish and hash oil at state-licensed marijuana retail outlets.House Bill 2304 now goes to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D).

Medical Marijuana

HHS Gives Go-Ahead for MAPS PTSD Research Study. The federal Department of Health and Human Services granted permission Thursday for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to purchase research-grade marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for its planned study of marijuana for symptoms of PTSD. MAPS notes that this is the first time in the 22 years it has been trying to start marijuana drug research that it has actually won permission to purchase marijuana from NIDA. It's not quite a done deal yet, though; the DEA still as to approve. MAPS said it was "optimistic" DEA would do so.

Florida Poll Shows Strong Support for Initiative. A University of North Florida poll released Monday has the state's medical marijuana amendment initiative well-positioned to win in November. The initiative has already qualified for the ballot. The poll had 74% of registered voters planning to vote for it. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it will need 60% approval to pass.

Iowa Poll Has Support for Medical Marijuana at 81%. In a new Quinnipiac Poll, 81% of Iowa voters said they would support "allowing adults in Iowa to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it." Even among Republicans, 68% agreed. That's in sharp contrast to a recent Iowa Poll that had only 59% supporting "legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes."

Michigan Chamber of Commerce Wants No Jobless Benefits for Fired Medical Marijuana Users. Michigan's leading business group is urging the state appeals court to rule out jobless benefits for people who are fired for using medical marijuana. The move comes as the court weighs the cases of people who sought benefits after being fired for using medical marijuana. Lower court judges have ruled in favor of the workers, who argued that they shouldn't be denied benefits after losing their jobs for using marijuana legally under state law.

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Initiative Has 15% of Necessary Signatures. A signature-gathering campaign to put medical marijuana on the November ballot has collected about 15% of the signatures needed to qualify, Arkansans for Compassionate Care said on Thursday. The initiative is one of two gathering signatures this year. It has until July 7 to hand in 62,000 qualified signatures, and has about 10,000 so far.

Nevada Board of Health Approves Dispensary Regulations. The Board of Health gave its approval Friday to rules to regulate new dispensaries. The next and final step is approval by a legislative commission on March 28. A 2013 law allowing dispensaries goes into effect April 1. But even then, there will be a 45-day notice announcing the date applications will be accepted. Once the application period opens, there will only be a 10-day window for accepting them. After the application period closes, the state must make a decision on each application within 90 days of receiving it. And then dispensaries have to grow their supply. Maybe by year's end…

Drug Policy

House Passes Bill to Force President to Enforce Federal Drug Laws. The Republican-controlled US House last week passed the Enforce the Law Act (House Resolution 4138), which would allow Congress to sue the president for failing to execute federal laws. While the bill is a broad attack on the Obama administration, one key supporter, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), singled out the "selective non-enforcement" of part of the Controlled Substance Act in medical marijuana and legal marijuana states as a major concern. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the bill was "dead on arrival" in the Senate.

Law Enforcement

Nevada County Settles Up in Interstate-80 Cash Seizure Cases. Humboldt County, Nevada, where sheriff's deputies developed a habit of stopping travelers on I-80 and seizing their cash through threats of arrest or impoundment even though no drugs were found, has settled a lawsuit over the practice. Two men from whom thousands of dollars were taken sued and have won their money back and attorneys' fees. The county District Attorney's Office also said Friday it had launched an internal review of the county's "forfeiture program," but that it had seen no evidence of illegal stops or other wrongdoing on the part of Sheriff Ed Kilgore or his deputies. The lawsuits claimed the cash seizures were part of a pattern of stopping drivers for speeding as a pretext for drug busts in violation of the Constitution.

Illinois Bill to Ban Kratom Filed. Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) has filed a bill to outlaw kratom, a Southeast Asian herb with psychoactive properties. The plant is not banned federally, although the DEA has it on its list of "drugs of concern." Indiana is the only state so far to have criminalized it, designating its active ingredients as controlled substances. The Illinois bill is House Bill 5526.

Sentencing

Some Federal Prosecutors Oppose Eliminating Mandatory Minimums. Attorney General Holder's move to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for most drug offenders is running into flak from some prosecutors, The Washington Post reported Thursday. They complained that "tough sentencing policies provide a critical tool to dismantle drug networks by getting cooperation from lower-level defendants and building cases that move up the criminal chain of command." The prosecutors spoke out at a hearing of the US Sentencing Commission where Holder endorsed changing federal sentencing guidelines to reduce drug sentences in most cases.

International

NGOs to Address Inter-American Human Rights Commission on Drug Policy and Human Rights. For the first time, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission has granted an audience to hemispheric civil society groups to address the impact of the war on drugs on human rights in the Americas. The audience will take place in Washington, DC, on March 25. Click on the link to see the impressive list of organizations that will participate.

Jamaican Rastas Want Legal Marijuana Monopoly. The newly formed Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers Association said licenses to grow and sell marijuana upon legalization should be limited to Rastafarians and other poor people, who have been victimized for decades for cultivating the herb. "We will not stand by and watch anybody outside of Rastafari and grassroots people take over this product. And we make no apology," association President Ras Iyah V declared during his address at the launch of the organisation at the MXIII Lawn in Negril on Sunday night. "We are saying this loud and clear to the Government, we are saying it to society, and we are saying it to the international community. Otherwise, we will take to the streets and turn Jamaica upside down -- and we make no apology. Because we not going take baton lick and brutality and all of a sudden now when the legalization aspect come, a some rich people come tek it ova -- people who used to scoff and scorn at the very mention of the herb name ganja," he added. "The WHGFA's objectives are to make sure that those who have paid the price -- who have been going to jail, going to prison, getting the baton licks, who have been planting the herb and it get cut down by police and soldiers, and yet have been persistent with this product -- that the rights of these individuals are protected."

Mexico Moves to Rein In Anti-Cartel Vigilantes. Leery of having created a Frankenstein monster, Mexican authorities moved last week to put anti-cartel vigilante groups on notice that their illegal tactics will no longer be tolerated. Locals who saw the vigilantes as saviors from cartel extortion and threats now complain of similar behavior from the vigilantes, and the government says it now no longer needs them. Several vigilante leaders have been arrested on murder and other charges.

Chronicle AM -- March 11, 2014

The District of Columbia could legalize marijuana at the ballot box this year, Dr. Sanjay Gupta doubles down on his support for medical marijuana with a new CNN special tonight, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting this week in Vienna is attracting a lot of attention, and more. Let's get to it:

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta "doubles down" on his support for medical marijuana. (via Share Bear on Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Cleared for Signature-Gathering. The District of Columbia Board of Elections announced this morning that it had approved a marijuana legalization initiative for signature-gathering. That means voters in the nation's capital could vote to free the weed in November. Now, the DC Cannabis Campaign must gather some 25,000 signatures to qualify for the November ballot. But first, the Board of Elections must finalize the language for the measure. It has 20 days to do so.

Colorado Takes in $2 Million in Marijuana Taxes in First Month of Legalization. The state of Colorado collected $2.01 million in retail marijuana sales and excise taxes in January, the first month of legal sales, the Department of Revenue reported Monday.

Missouri Legalization Bill Gets Committee Hearing. A bill to legalize marijuana in the Show-Me State got a hearing in the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee Monday. House Bill 1659, sponsored by Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia), got a mixed reception in the hearing, with GOP lawmakers expressing skepticism. The committee took no vote and offered no timetable for further action.

Louisiana Marijuana Reform Advocates Rally on Capitol Steps in Baton Rouge. Although there is no legalization bill filed in Louisiana, legalization advocates rallied at the state capitol Monday to get their voices heard. The event was organized by Legalize Louisiana, which seeks to "decriminalize, legalize, and regulate marijuana" in the Bayou State. Although there is no legalization bill this year, there are bills to decriminalize and to allow for medical marijuana.

Legalization Would Be a "Terrible Mistake," Says NYPD Commissioner. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said Tuesday it would be a 'terrible mistake' to legalize marijuana and predicted problems for states that go that course. But he did say he supported medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Dr. Sanjay Gupta Doubles Down for Medical Marijuana; Special Airs Tonight. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who first saw the light on medical marijuana a few months ago, has reiterated his support for the herb's medicinal uses and will air a new special on the topic, Weed 2: Cannabis Madness: Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports," at 10 p.m. ET on tonight.

In New Crackdown, Los Angeles Shutters A Hundred Dispensaries. More than 100 dispensaries have shut down since Los Angeles started enforcing new rules restricting them, City Atty. Mike Feuer announced Monday. In addition to the rules prompting scores of closures, Feuer said city lawyers had successfully fended off a host of legal challenges. In one closely watched case, they prevented a dispensary from opening in Mar Vista, securing a permanent injunction before it could set up shop.

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Stalled By Cops. A key lawmaker said Tuesday she doesn't see a path forward for legalizing medical marijuana after talks with law enforcement hit a standstill. Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) said she had conceded to virtually all demands from law enforcement over the weekend but was still unable to get their support for her bill, House File 1818. Melin said she had no choice but to postpone a House committee hearing that would have been lawmakers' second look at the issue. "Law enforcement won't support any bill that would result in helping any patients," Melin said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The governor has to get involved."

Drug Testing

Georgia Food Stamp Drug Test Bill Passes Senate Committee. A bill that would require food stamp recipients suspected of drug use to pass a drug test to receive benefits narrowly passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Monday. House Bill 772, sponsored by Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia) has already passed the House. It's not clear if it now goes to another committee or to a Senate floor vote.

Prescription Opioids

West Virginia Senator Manchin Joins Call to Overturn FDA Approval of Zohydro. US Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has joined the call for the FDA to overturn its recent approval of Zohydro, a single-ingredient hydrocodone drug approved for people suffering from chronic pain. It is the first ever single-ingredient drug to be approved by the FDA. Manchion joins Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and a number of legislators, prosecutors, and medical groups seeking to reverse the decision. But the FDA and the drug's manufacturer say the drug is needed to treat chronic pain.

Drug Use

RAND Corporation Report Reviews Past Decade's Drug Use. A new report from the RAND Corporation, What America's Drug Users Spend on Illegal Drugs: 2000-2010, pegs spending on illicit drugs at $100 billion a year. It also notes that from 2000 to 2010, the amount people spent on cocaine dropped by half from $55 billion to $28 billion, reflecting dramatic decreases in the availability of cocaine after 2006: from approximately 300 pure metric tons in 2000 to about 150 pure metric tons in 2010.

International

UN Drugs Meeting Opens after Historic Reforms Shatter Consensus on Drug Control System. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) opens its annual meeting this week after a year of historic reforms. This year’s meeting—which is taking place Vienna from March 13-21—is expected to be unusually contentious after a monumental 2013-2014. Unprecedented reforms have shaken the foundations of global drugs policy and set the stage for an explosive international debate. For live updates, check out the CND Blog.

Report Finds UN Stuck in Denial Over Marijuana Regulation. A new report from the Transnational Institute and the Global Drug Policy Observatory has been released in the run-up to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting this week. The report, The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition: the History of Cannabis in the UN drug control system and options for reform, unveils the long and little-known history of cannabis regulation from the late 19th century when it was widely used for medical, ceremonial and social purposes to the post-WWII period when US pressure and a potent mix of moralistic rhetoric and unreliable scientific data succeeded in categorising cannabis as a drug with 'particularly dangerous properties' on a par with heroin in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It also brings the history up-to-date with more recent developments as an increasing number of countries have shown discomfort with the treaty regime's strictures through 'soft defections', such as turning a blind eye, decriminalization, coffee shops, cannabis social clubs and generous medical marijuana schemes. These have stretched the legal flexibility of the conventions to sometimes questionable limits. The report outlines specific options for reform and assesses their potential for success. These options include: WHO review and modification of cannabis scheduling; state parties amending the treaties; modifying the conventions 'inter se', e.g. between specific states only; or denunciation of the treaty and re-accession with a reservation (carried out recently by Bolivia in order to defend indigenous rights and the use of coca leaf in its natural form).

ENCOD Calls for UN to End the Drug War. The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) will use the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs this week to call on the UN to end the war on drugs. A delegation of five Encod members will join the debate inside the UN: Urki Goñi, chairman of Cannabis Social Club Urjogaberdea in the Basque Country, Spain, Doug Fine, author of 'Hemp Bound' and 'Too High To Fail: Cannabis & the New Green Economic Revolution', Dionisio Nuñez, Bolivian ex-minister of coca affairs, Janko Belin, Encod chairman and Joep Oomen, Encod coordinator. On Friday March 14 one of them will deliver a speech to the plenary meeting. ENCOD will also be reporting nightly from the sessions later this week on the ENCOD web site.

Legalization Won't Solve World's Drug Problem, UN Drug Chief Says.Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told reporters Monday that while it is up to member states to decide "what needs to be done," legalization ain't it. "As the head of UNODC, I have to say that legalization is not a solution to the (world's) drug problem," Fedotov said. "It is very hard to say that this law (adopted by Uruguay's parliament) is fully in line with legal provisions of the drug control conventions," he added.

UN Drug Chief Praises Iran Drug Fight Despite Executions. Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said Monday that Iran's anti-drug efforts were "very impressive" and that Iran "takes a very active role to fight against illicit drugs" even though human rights and harm reduction groups have criticized its frequent resort to the death penalty for drug offenders. Still, he added that UNODC opposes the death penalty and that he planned to raise the issue with Iranian leaders during the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna this week.

"The New Jim Crow" Author Michelle Alexander Talks Race and Drug War [FEATURE]

On Thursday, Michelle Alexander, author of the best-selling and galvanizing The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness sat down with poet/activist Asha Bandele of the Drug Policy Alliance to discuss the book's impact and where we go from here.

Michelle Alexander (wikimedia.org)
The New Jim Crow has been a phenomenon. Spending nearly 80 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, it brought to the forefront a national conversation about why the United States had become the world's largest incarcerator, with 2.2 million in prison or jail and 7.7 million under control of the criminal justice system, and African American boys and men -- and now women -- making up a disproportionate number of those imprisoned. Alexander identified failed drug war policies as the primary driver of those numbers, and called for a greater challenge to them by key civil rights leaders.

It's now been nearly four years since The New Jim Crow first appeared. Some things have changed -- federal sentencing reforms, marijuana legalization in two states -- but many others haven't. Alexander and Bandele discuss what has changed, what hasn't, and what needs to, raising serious questions about the path we've been down and providing suggestions about new directions.

Audio of the conversation is online here, and a transcript follows here:

Asha Bandele: The US has 5% of the world's population, but has 25% of the world's incarcerated population, and the biggest policy cause is the failed drug war. How has the landscape changed in the last four years since The New Jim Crow came out?

Michelle Alexander: The landscape absolutely has changed in profound ways. When writing this book, I was feeling incredibly frustrated by the failure of many civil rights organizations and leaders to make the war on drugs a critical priority in their organization and also by the failure of many of my progressive friends and allies to awaken to the magnitude of the harm caused by the war on drugs and mass incarceration. At the same time, not so long ago, I didn't understand the horror of the drug war myself, I failed to connect the dots and understand the ways these systems of racial and social control are born and reborn.

But over last few years, I couldn't be more pleased with reception. Many people warned me that civil rights organizations could be defensive or angered by criticisms in the book, but they've done nothing but respond with enthusiasm and some real self-reflection.

There is absolutely an awakening taking place. It's important to understand that this didn't start with my book -- Angela Davis coined the term "prison industrial complex" years ago; Mumia Abu-Jamal was writing from prison about mass incarceration and our racialized prison state. Many, many advocates have been doing this work and connecting the dots for far longer than I have. I wanted to lend more credibility and support for the work that so many have been doing for some, but that has been marginalized.

I am optimistic, but at the same time, I see real reasons for concern. There are important victories in legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington, in Holder speaking out against mandatory minimums and felon disenfranchisement, in politicians across the country raising concerns about the size of the prison state for the first time in 40 years, but much of the dialog is still driven by fiscal concerns rather than genuine concern for the people and communities most impacted, the families destroyed. We haven't yet really had the kind of conversation we must have as a nation if we are going to do more than tinker with the machine and break our habit of creating mass incarceration in America.

Asha Bandele: Obama has his My Brother's Keeper initiative directed at black boys falling behind. A lot of this is driven by having families and communities disrupted by the drug war. Obama nodded at the structural racism that dismembers communities, but he said it was a moral failing. He's addressed race the least of any modern American president. Your thoughts?

Michelle Alexander: I'm glad that Obama is shining a spotlight on the real crisis facing black communities today, in particular black boys and young men, and he's right to draw attention to it and elevate it, but I worry that the initiative is based more in rhetoric than in a meaningful commitment to addressing the structures and institutions that have created these conditions in our communities. There is a commitment to studying the problem and identifying programs that work to keep black kids in school and out of jail, and there is an aspect that seeks to engage foundations and corporations, but there is nothing in the initiative that offers any kind of policy change from the government or any government funding of any kind to support these desperately needed programs.

There is an implicit assumption that we just need to find what works to lift people up by their bootstraps, without acknowledging that we're waging a war on these communities we claim to be so concerned about. The initiative itself reflects this common narrative that suggests the reasons why there are so many poor people of color trapped at the bottom -- bad schools, poverty, broken homes. And if we encourage people to stay in school and get and stay married, then the whole problem of mass incarceration will no longer be of any real concern.

But I've come to believe we have it backwards. These communities are poor and have failing schools and broken homes not because of their personal failings, but because we've declared war on them, spent billions building prisons while allowing schools to fail, targeted children in these communities, stopping, searching, frisking them -- and the first arrest is typically for some nonviolent minor drug offense, which occurs with equal frequency in middle class white neighborhoods but typically goes ignored. We saddle them with criminal records, jail them, then release them to a parallel universe where they are discriminated against for the rest of their lives, locked into permanent second-class status.

We've done this in the communities most in need our support and economic investment. Rather than providing meaningful support to these families and communities where the jobs have gone overseas and they are struggling to move from an industrial-based economy to a global one, we have declared war on them. We have stood back and said "What is wrong with them?" The more pressing question is "What is wrong with us?"

Asha Bandele: During the Great Depression, FDR had the New Deal, but now it seem like there is no social commitment at the highest levels of government. And we see things like Eric Holder and Rand Paul standing together to end mandatory minimums. Is this an unholy alliance?

Michelle Alexander: We have to be very clear that so much of the progress being made on drug policy reflects the fact that we are at a time when politicians are highly motivated to downsize prisons because we can't afford the massive prison state without raising taxes on the predominantly white middle class. This is the first time in 40 years we've been willing to have a serious conversation about prison downsizing.

But I'm deeply concerned about us doing the right things for the wrong reasons. This movement to end mass incarceration and the war on drugs is about breaking the habit of forming caste-like systems and creating a new ethic of care and concern for each of us, this idea that each of us has basic human rights. That is the ultimate goal of this movement. The real issue that lies at the core of every caste system ever created is the devaluing of human beings.

If we're going to do this just to save some cash, we haven't woken up to the magnitude of the harm. If we are not willing to have a searching conversation about how we got to this place, how we are able to lock up millions of people, we will find ourselves either still having a slightly downsized mass incarceration system or some new system of racial control because we will have not learned the core lesson our racial history is trying to teach us. We have to learn to care for them, the Other, the ghetto dwellers we demonize.

Temporary, fleeting political alliances with politicians who may have no real interest in communities of color is problematic. We need to stay focused on doing the right things for the right reasons, and not count as victories battles won when the real lessons have not been learned.

Asha Bandele: Portugal decriminalized all drugs and drug use has remained flat, overdoses been cut by a third, HIV cut by two-thirds. What can we learn from taking a public health approach and its fundamental rejection of stigma?

Michelle Alexander: Portugal is an excellent example of how it is possible to reduce addiction and abuse and drug related crime in a non-punitive manner without filling prisons and jails. Supposedly, we criminalize drugs because we are so concerned about the harm they cause people, but we wind up inflicting far more pain and suffering than the substances themselves. What are we doing really when we criminalize drugs is not criminalizing substances, but people.

I support a wholesale shift to a public health model for dealing with drug addiction and abuse. How would we treat people abusing if we really cared about them? Would we put them in a cage, saddle them with criminal records that will force them into legal discrimination the rest of their lives? I support the decriminalization of all drugs for personal use. If you possess a substance, we should help you get education and support, not demonize, shame, and punish you for the rest of your life.

I'm thrilled that Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana and DC has decriminalized it -- these are critically important steps in shifting from a purely punitive approach. But there are warning flags. I flick on the news, and I see images of people using marijuana and trying to run legitimate businesses, and they're almost all white. When we thought of them as black or brown, we had a purely punitive approach. Also, it seems like its exclusively white men being interviewed as wanting to start marijuana businesses and make a lot of money selling marijuana.

I have to say the image doesn't sit right. Here are white men poised to run big marijuana businesses after 40 years of impoverished black kids getting prison time for doing the same thing. As we talk about legalization, we have to also be willing to talk about reparations for the war on drugs, as in how do we repair the harm caused.

With regard to Iraq, Colin Powell said "If you break it, you own it," but we haven't learned that basic lesson from our own racial history. We set the slaves free with nothing, and after Reconstruction, a new caste system arose, Jim Crow. A movement arose and we stopped Jim Crow, but we got no reparations after the waging of a brutal war on poor communities of color that decimated families and fanned the violence it was supposed to address.

Do we simply say "We're done now, let's move on" and white men can make money? This time, we have to get it right; we have to tell the whole truth, we have to repair the harm done. It's not enough to just stop. Enormous harm had been done; we have to repair those communities.

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