Drug Policy

What Michelle Alexander calls the “roundup” of youth of color rests very heavily on arrests for low-level nonviolent drug possession. Although whites use drugs at roughly the same levels, the people who are picked up and sent to jail for drug use are overwhelmingly people of color, African Americans in particular. To stop the roundup we need to reform the drug laws and also bar racist law enforcement that selectively targets some communities and not others.

The Shame Is Not Ours: Black America, Poverty and the War on Drugs

The so-called war on drugs was created to target black, brown, poor and working-class communities, those communities that have borne the brunt of institutionalized, systemic, white supremacist violence. John Ehrlichman, chief domestic adviser to President Richard Nixon and Watergate co-conspirator, admitted as much in an interview with Dan Baum that was recounted in a 2016 Harper’s Magazine interview: The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the … [Read more...]

Marijuana Is Now Legal in California. Continuing to Punish Prior Offenders Is Cruel and Unnecessary

  Marijuana is now legal under California law, but hundreds of thousands of Californians have criminal records for possessing or selling the drug when it was still banned. Those records can make it harder for people to get a job, obtain a loan, go to college, rent an apartment or otherwise become productive members of their community — even if their marijuana arrest happened decades ago. Proposition 64 not only allowed the sale and adult use of marijuana going forward, subject to … [Read more...]

San Francisco Will Clear Thousands of Marijuana Convictions

Thousands of people with misdemeanor convictions for marijuana possession dating back 40 years will have their criminal records cleared, the San Francisco district attorney’s office said Wednesday. San Diego is also forgiving old convictions. Recreational marijuana became legal in California this year, and the law allowed those with prior low-level offenses to petition for expungement, a process that can be costly. But in San Francisco and San Diego, people need not ask. George Gascón, San … [Read more...]

Justice Shouldn’t Come With a $250 Fine

For those who hope to see the criminal justice system operate more fairly, this is an exciting time in the United States. Cities and counties across the country have recently elected a new wave of reform-minded prosecutors. But the fines and debt that many of them want to use instead of incarceration can be just as unfair and ineffective as the long sentences they say they reject. In November, Nueces County, Tex., elected a progressive district attorney, Mark Gonzalez. His platform included a … [Read more...]

The Opioid Crisis Is Getting Worse, Particularly for Black Americans

The epidemic of drug overdoses, often perceived as a largely white rural problem, made striking inroads among black Americans last year — particularly in urban counties where fentanyl has become widespread. Although the steep rise in 2016 drug deaths has been noted previously, these are the first numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to break down 2016 mortality along geographic and racial lines. They reveal that the drug death rate is rising most steeply among … [Read more...]

How Do You Clear a Pot Conviction From Your Record?

It depends on where you live. (Californians, you’re in luck.) ddy, a burly 65-year-old professional musician, walked into a free legal clinic in Los Angeles County one July morning hoping to clear his record. More than three decades ago, he served two years probation for attempting to sell a few gram bags of marijuana, a felony that put the immigrant, a legal U.S. resident with a green card, at greater risk of deportation. Thanks to Proposition 64, the California ballot initiative that … [Read more...]

Law Clinics Offer “Second Chance”

Tim Gee woke before dawn Saturday and donned a black three-piece suit with crimson tie. The Las Vegas resident then flew to Los Angeles, home to a past that still haunts him. Hours later, he stood holding a FedEx envelope full of documents, waiting with dozens of other convicted felons seeking free legal assistance at a special clinic near downtown Los Angeles in getting their charges reduced, dismissed or expunged from their criminal records. More than 25 years ago, Gee was arrested for … [Read more...]

Why Is the Opioid Epidemic Overwhelmingly White?

The opioid epidemic is ravaging large parts of the American population. But some races are being hit harder than others. Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a drug abuse expert, explains why that might be the case. NOEL KING, HOST: An opioid epidemic is ravaging parts of this country. President Trump has declared it a public health emergency. Last year, overdoses killed some 64,000 people. It's being compared to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and '90s. The face of the opioid epidemic has been mostly … [Read more...]

Why You Shouldn’t Ask LA’s New Pot Czar If She Smokes

When the phone guy at Los Angeles City Hall went to set up Cat Packer's phone line, he wondered if the assignment was a prank. Like a lot of people, he was a bit surprised to learn that the city actually has a new pot czar. "Pot czar" is not what it says on Packer's business card — her official title is executive director of Los Angeles' new Department of Cannabis Regulation. The 26-year-old said her interest in the intersection between policy and pot dates back to a class she took on … [Read more...]

How Legalized Pot Can Make up for the Disastrous War on Drugs

When recreational cannabis becomes legal in California on Jan. 2, part of the focus — in Los Angeles, at any rate — will be on “social equity.” That’s the term for a set of guidelines meant to spread legalization’s wealth to neighborhoods that have gotten the worst of the drug wars. According to draft legislation currently moving through the City Council, for every general license approved for a pot shop, one license must also be approved for social equity reasons. I’m fully in favor of … [Read more...]