Drug Policy Reform

What Michelle Alexander calls the “roundup” of youth of color and all people of color rests very heavily on arrests and convictions for low-level nonviolent drug possession—marijuana primarily. Although whites and nonwhites 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 and African American people in particular. To stop the roundup we need to reform our drug laws and also bar the kind of law enforcement that selectively targets some communities and not others.

Bill Reducing Drug Possession Penalty Passes California Senate

Last Thursday, the California Senate approved SB649, which will give prosecutorial and judicial discretion to charge possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use as a felony or a misdemeanor as the case warrants, by a 23-14 margin. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) would help reduce prison and jail overcrowding in California and potentially even provide savings to the financially-strapped courts because felony charges require setting a preliminary hearing, … [Read more...]

Drug Czar’s Marijuana Rhetoric Still Rings of “Reefer Madness”

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (more commonly known as the Drug Czar’s office; ONDCP) released its 2013 National Drug Control Strategy last week. The strategy has shifted a little from previous national drug strategies, and is being called a “21st Century Approach.”  The Drug Czar’s rhetoric has evolved over the last couple of years – reflecting the fact that three-quarters of Americans consider the drug war a failure – emphasizing the need to treat drug misuse as a … [Read more...]

Superstar-Studded Coalition to President Obama: Let’s Tackle Mass Incarceration and Drug Policy Reform Together

A coalition of over 175 artists, actors, athletes, elected officials and advocates, brought together by hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons and Dr. Boyce Watkins, presented an open letter to President Obama, urging him to double down on his efforts to change the United States’ criminal justice policy from that of a punitive, suppression-based model to one that favors evidence-based prevention and rehabilitation. According to Department of Justice data, the U.S. leads the world in the incarceration … [Read more...]

Unfair Punishments

Congress embraced a destructive policy when it decreed in 1996 that people convicted of drug felonies would henceforth be banned for life from receiving food stamps or cash assistance unless they lived in a state that expressly opted out of the ban. The bans affected the country’s most vulnerable families, including women with children. And by denying welfare benefits to former drug addicts, the government makes it much harder for them to get access to residential treatment, which is sometimes … [Read more...]

James DiGiovannantonio: My Son’s Story

My name is James DiGiovannantonio and I am from Washington Township, New Jersey. On September 6th, 2009 my wife and I lost our son, Marc, to an accidental prescription drug overdose. At only twenty-two, Marc had his whole life ahead of him, but he died when his own child was just two years old. I am speaking out now because I want Marc’s story to help others. I can’t bring my son back, but I can help other families avoid the horror that my wife and I experience every day. During his short … [Read more...]

How to Stop Urban Violence and Drug Dealing

It is rare that while reading a book I immediately want to go out and buy copies to distribute to others. But David Kennedy’s Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America is so powerful, so convincing, and ultimately so important that anyone working to curb violence and open drug dealing in urban neighborhoods must read it. What separates Kennedy from so many other anti-crime strategists is that he has been down in the trenches in some of the … [Read more...]

A Victim Becomes an Activist

The life of a nurse and devoted mother of three was changed forever when Alabama state police raided her home for drugs. Police found no evidence that  Dorothy Gaines had possessed or sold drugs. Though the state dropped all charges, federal prosecutors eventually charged Dorothy with conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine based on flawed informant testimony. She refused to plead guilty or provide testimony against defendants – and as a result, she was sentenced to serve 19 years and 7 … [Read more...]

How to Stop Urban Violence and Drug Dealing

It is rare that while reading a book I immediately want to go out and buy copies to distribute to others. But David Kennedy’s Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America is so powerful, so convincing, and ultimately so important that anyone working to curb violence and open drug dealing in urban neighborhoods must read it. What separates Kennedy from so many other anti-crime strategists is that he has been down in the trenches in some of the … [Read more...]

The Ugly Truth of Mandatory Drug Sentencing

This is a simple truth: the United States is the only country in the first world that imposes life sentences to teenagers for small-time, non-violent drug offenses. In fact, the American legal system does so with alarming regularity, spending $40 billion a year to lock up hundreds of thousands of low-level dealers. The practice began when Ronald Reagan declared a "War on Drugs" in 1986, and has spread steadily since then. The following year, Congress enacted its federal mandatory sentencing … [Read more...]