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The Drug Policy Alliance Network (DPA Network) is the nation’s leading organization promoting policy alternatives to the drug war that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.
Our supporters are individuals who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. Together we advance policies that reduce the harms of both drug misuse and drug prohibition, and seek solutions that promote safety while upholding the sovereignty of individuals over their own minds and bodies. We work to ensure that our nation’s drug policies no longer arrest, incarcerate, disenfranchise and otherwise harm millions of nonviolent people. Our work inevitably requires us to address the disproportionate impact of the drug war on people of color.
Media coverage of drugs and drug policy has grown much more sophisticated in the past few years. Yet many media outlets -- even some of the most well-meaning ones -- still often use inaccurate, offensive, or just plain absurd language that would be considered unthinkable when covering other issues.
Last year, the Associated Press made waves when it announced that it would no longer use the term "illegal immigrant." This fits with the AP's and other outlets' efforts to cast aside labeling terms that define people by a single behavior or condition -- and to instead use terms that humanize the people they are writing about.
Well, the AP is now working on the 2015 edition of the Stylebook and has issued an open call for suggestions for new or updated entries. A few could make the cut and get integrated into the 2015 guide.
At the Drug Policy Alliance, we have long sought to use humanizing language that doesn’t equate someone’s involvement with drugs or the criminal justice system as the sum of their identity – and we are asking the AP to join us.
First off, we have to stop using objectifying and dehumanizing language to describe people who use drugs or who struggle with drugs. The term “addict” as a noun is totally outdated and should be replaced with “person dependent on drugs” or “people who struggle with addiction.” The use of “addict” by some people in recovery themselves doesn’t make it OK to reduce anyone else’s humanity. As my colleague Meghan Ralston recently wrote in "The End of the Addict":
“The sense of fear, loathing, otherness and "less than" created by that word far outweighs any benefits of using linguistic shorthand to quickly describe a person. "Addict" is a word so singularly loaded with stigma and contempt that it’s somewhat appalling that we continue to let it be used so easily and indiscriminately. Even in a chaotic stage of drug use, we are not "other." We are women, we are someone’s daughter, we continue to laugh, we continue to like jazz and cheeseburgers and comfy pajamas. We cry, we get so lonely, we hate sitting in traffic. Addiction can be wretched, no question, but we do not ever stop being human beings, even during the times in our lives when we are dependent on drugs.”
There is no one-size-fits-all answer. The point is to be as specific as possible without reducing a person’s entire identity to a single characteristic, behavior, or experience. Here are a few other examples:
- Instead of “drug offender” try “person arrested for drugs” or “person convicted of a drug law violation.”
- Instead of “ex-con” try “formerly incarcerated person.”
- Instead of “drug injector” try “person who injects drugs.”
- Instead of “drug user” and “drug dealer” try “person who uses drugs” or “person who sells drugs.”
Language plays a big role in shaping our everyday realities. As we move farther away from the drug war hysteria that drove our country into the catastrophe of mass incarceration, now is as good a time as ever to question everything we take for granted about drugs and people who use them.
Jag Davies is the publications manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.
Date Published: October 20, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance
NEW YORK: A new report released today by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and the Drug Policy Alliance shows that, despite campaign promises, marijuana possession arrests under Mayor de Blasio are on track to equal – or even surpass – the number of arrests under Mayor Bloomberg. As under the Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations, these arrests are marked by shockingly high racial disparities. The report, Race, Class & Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s Two New Yorks: the NYPD’s Marijuana Arrest Crusade Continues in 2014 draws on data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and shows that despite a change in mayoral administrations and police commissioners, the NYPD continues its practice of making wasteful, racially biased, and costly marijuana arrests.
The report includes extensive analysis of marijuana arrest and income data, showing that overall, low income and middle class communities of color face dramatically higher rates of marijuana possession arrests than do white communities of every class bracket. Most of those arrested are young men of color, even though young white men use marijuana at higher rates. Nearly 75% of the people arrested for marijuana possession in 2014 have never been convicted of even a single misdemeanor, and only 11% have a misdemeanor conviction.
"President Obama, Governor Cuomo, former Mayor Ed Koch and candidate Bill de Blasio all strongly criticized the NYPD's racist marijuana possession arrests,” said report author and Queens College professor Harry Levine. “Yet the most progressive mayor in the modern history of New York is unable to stop them? Really?"
New York State decriminalized personal possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1977, finding that arresting people for small amounts of marijuana "needlessly scars thousands of lives while detracting from the prosecution of serious crimes.” Yet over the last twenty years, marijuana possession has become a top law enforcement priority, with nearly 600,000 people having been arrested under this provision in New York City alone, often as the result of an illegal search or as the result of a stop-and-frisk encounter when police demand an individual “empty their pockets,” thus exposing marijuana to public view.
"I was illegally searched by the NYPD and arrested for having a small amount of marijuana in my pocket,” said Iveily Matias, 20, a VOCAL-NY member living in Washington Heights. “It was my first time ever getting arrested and now I have a criminal record that makes it harder to find a job. I wasn't posing a risk to anyone's health or safety, so why am I, and so many other young people of color, being criminalized?"
Efforts to end the marijuana arrest crusade in New York continue to build. In a major development earlier this year, Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio calling for an end to biased marijuana possession arrests. Additionally, this spring, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced a plan to stop prosecuting people arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. The proposal was met with wide support from elected officials, community groups, and advocates; notably, though, Commissioner Bratton brazenly vowed to continue the racially biased arrest practice. And in Albany, where reform proposals have been debated for years, Assemblyman Karim Camara and Senator Daniel Squadron introduced the Fairness and Equity Act – new, comprehensive legislation to end the marijuana arrest crusade and address the persistent, unwarranted racial disparities associated with the practice.
"There is no excuse for the New York City marijuana arrest crusade to be continuing in 2014," said Kassandra Frederique, New York Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "New Yorkers made it clear that Black lives mattered when they voted for the mayoral candidate that supported ending bias policing practices, including racist marijuana arrests. It is time for that mayoral candidate to become the mayor and order his police commissioner to end these wasteful marijuana arrests now.”
When comparing arrests in the first eight months of both years (January – August), state data show that the NYPD made 396 more marijuana arrests in 2013 than in 2014 (20,080 versus 19,684). Why slightly more in 2013? Because of the low numbers of marijuana arrests in January and February of 2014, the first two months of the new mayoral administration. Were the marijuana arrests down in January and February 2014 because of policies of the new administration? No. The arrests were down because, according to records from the U.S. weather service, New York City received more inches of snow in January and February of 2014 than in any year since 1870 – more snow than in any January and February in 145 years. In effect, it took what insurance companies call "an act of God" to slow down the NYPD's marijuana possession arrests in 2014. And then only for two months. Since then, the numbers of the NYPD's lowest‐ level marijuana arrests have been up, and are on track to equal or pass all arrests in 2013.
“When it comes to marijuana possession arrests, the de Blasio-Bratton record is an awful tale of two New Yorks,” said gabriel sayegh, Managing Director for Policy & Campaigns for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Mayor de Blasio promised to end these arrests, so why do they continue today? The City Council should act to hold the Mayor and Commissioner accountable, and Albany needs to pass the Fairness and Equity Act. We cannot allow systemic racial disparities to persist. Every New Yorker should receive fair, equal treatment under the law, regardless of their race, their class or where they live.”Author:
Date Published: October 20, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance | Marijuana Arrest Research Project
News broke this morning that Hunter Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, was expelled from the Navy just a month after receiving his commission in 2013 because he failed a drug test, testing positive for cocaine use. This is only the latest and most high-profile case of a self-imposed brain drain by the US government of highly talented, intelligent, motivated young professionals, because of obsolete, outmoded, and misguided prohibitionist drug war policies.
Indeed, no small number of highly qualified professionals are dissuaded from using their talents to serve their government, something that we desperately need in this time of such global turmoil, because the US government adheres to policies from another era that will reject valuable and important skills and access based solely on haphazard tests about what these people do in their own time.
Surely there are problem drinkers in the government. Just go to a cocktail party at an embassy or bureau Christmas party and you will see that analyst or special agent relax just a little too much.
These individuals will face no repercussions for overindulgence within moderation. Granted, they are professionals who have received extensive training on how to conduct themselves appropriately while under the influence, or while consuming certain mind-altering substances like alcohol, and if their use ever becomes a problem, there are protocols in place to address it.
But why is there such tolerance in high levels of government for alcohol and such admonition for other substances resoundingly less harmful? After all, just ask any jarhead what his CO is like to deal with when he’s going through coffee withdrawal. It’s a problem, too.
In my personal experience, I have known foreign service officers and people who work in national security who have had close brushes with their employers because of recreational marijuana consumption. Fortunately, in these cases, reason won out, and their respective organizations saw the value in overlooking these missteps because of the quality work that these people provide in defense of the republic.
But those are definitely exceptions, and as a rule, highly-competent professionals are all too often dismissed solely because of a substance they chose to use during their off-time.
This has a very bad long-term effect of discouraging people who should be in government from working for the government. Earlier this year, in May, in the wake of Colorado and Washington’s new responsible regulation of marijuana, rumors spread online that FBI Director James Comey told a young cyber-inclined man that “he should go ahead and apply” to the Bureau, despite the fact he was a marijuana aficionado. After all, the need for skilled tech people is very high in the government these days, with constant threat of state-sponsored cyber warfare and sporadic nonstate hack attacks.
It also happens that many tech-inclined young people are fond of marijuana. Comey’s statement raised hopes on college campuses and think tanks around the country that maybe, just maybe, the government was on the verge of updating their policies toward reason. Nevertheless, two days later, the Director clarified his statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee with a resounding “I did not say I am going to change that ban.”
This is unfortunate. The US government should immediately change their hiring policies to accept individuals who may use marijuana or other drugs in a responsible manner on their own time, but should screen for people whose use is problematic, and deal with problem use in the same manner that they deal with problem alcohol use or coffee addiction.
James Carli is development communications and research coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance.
Date Published: October 17, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance
In the fight to end the drug war, U.S. foreign policy has been particularly frustrating. While we have seen a myriad of changes at the domestic level on marijuana, criminal justice, and harm reduction, U.S. foreign policy has remained on autopilot.
Foreign aid to fund the drug war abroad is still in the billions of dollars per year despite the fact that this approach has been entirely counterproductive, especially in Latin America. All that may be changing though, with the State Department now calling for a “flexible” approach to the international treaties that have underpinned the global drug war for generations.
The man who made the promising comments is William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). INL has long been a champion of the drug war, cracking down on any country that dared to engage in drug policy reform. For example, in 2006 the Bush Administration pressured Mexico’s President Vicente Fox to veto a bill that would decriminalize small amounts of possession of certain drugs.
What has changed? Washington and Colorado. Their legalization of marijuana put State Department and U.S. foreign policy in a bind. How could Brownfield and his buddies lecture other countries on drug policy, and push prohibition, when two states at home were legalizing marijuana? How to justify sending billions of dollars in aid to fight cartels in Mexico for something that is legal on the other side of the border?
For most of the year following the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, the Obama Administration said very little about how it would approach these two states, given that they were technically in violation of federal law. In August 2013, the Department of Justice issued a memo in which it set forth a hands-off approach to states that reformed their marijuana laws.
Once again, this bold move by Attorney General Eric Holder put the State Department in a bind. They were forced to explain this new policy position to foreign partners who accused the U.S. hypocrisy – pushing foreign governments to stay the course in the failed drug war and prohibiting any changes, while allowing drug policy reform to proceed at home.
Something had to give. In the end, Secretary Brownfield, in April of this year, recognized the need for reform. The three international treaties, which have encouraged prohibition and militarization, should be viewed as “flexible”, thus allowing drug policy reform.
But it was last week that Brownfield laid out the current U.S. position in clear detail, demonstrating a desire for U.S. foreign policy to match domestic policy: “How could I, a representative of the government of the United States of America, be intolerant of a government that permits any experimentation with legalization of marijuana if two of the 50 states of the United States of America have chosen to walk down that road?”
Such a phrase would have been unthinkable two years ago, and represents the remarkable shift by the U.S. government in the direction of ending the international drug war and reforming antiquated international drug laws.
To be sure, we should wait for State Department’s policy to match Brownfield’s prose. If they are serious about drug policy reform, then Congress should cut drug war funding, and the U.S. should encourage reform among international partners.
With the State Department following Department of Justice in seeking an end to the failed drug war, we should be asking – which agency is next? The DEA?
I won’t hold my breath, but with the pace that drug policy reform has moved in recent years, we can dare to dream.
Michael Collins is a policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs.
Date Published: October 16, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance
Lisa Raville is a powerful woman whose days are filled with stigma—thinking about it, coping with it, wanting to reduce it, and seeing the real-life horrible impact of it on virtually every drug-injecting client who walks through her front door. She understands, better than most, that stigma is not a meaningless concept but that it is absolutely real and its consequences can absolutely destroy lives.
With a series of newly released ‘super-short’ videos, all of which clock in at under :30, Raville’s organization, Harm Reduction Action Center (HRAC) in Denver, CO, is exposing the impact of stigma on the real lives of real people who use drugs. This is stripped-down narrative, just faces, shot in black and white.
In one video, a mother talks about getting the call from the coroner that her son had died. In another video, a woman talks about how even if she has a problem with drugs, she’s still a human being like everyone else.
The video snippets provide just enough of a thought-provoking statement to stimulate further reflection or conversation. They are intentionally brief and intentionally open-ended.
Too often, people who inject drugs live on the margins, turned away from frustrated family members, kicked out of rehab for relapsing during treatment or unable to sustain employment and living on the streets.
We tell people they have a disease, but grow weary and angry when they don’t exhibit sufficient remorse for having that disease. We promote drug treatment, but usually demand total abstinence, ensuring that at least a portion of drug injectors will fall well short of that goal and incur our wrath.
In short, we get very impatient and frustrated and we manifest those feelings in the numerous ways we attempt to keep drug users away from us, out of society and far away from the people and services that could offer solace and assistance.
That’s stigma—and it hurts to be on the receiving end of it.
When people die alone in gas station bathrooms with needles in their arms, we can look to our institutionalized stigma as a factor in that death. If we supported heroin-assisted treatment or supervised injection facilities instead of projecting unbridled contempt on heroin users, far fewer of our sons and daughters would die alone, their last minutes spent hiding their drug use.
The way we treat people; the way we speak and write about them; the policies we make that impact their lives and the way we keep them away from us (and other parts of our shared human experience such as employment, housing, and even simple human friendship)—these are all elements of what we call ‘stigma.’ And people struggling with drug problems usually bear the absolute worst of it.
In a recent study out of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, researchers found that the public feels more negatively toward people with substance use disorders than people who are mentally ill. To add insult to injury, the researchers also found that the public does not support employment, health insurance or housing policies that help people with substance problems.
Raville is a smart woman. She knows these videos aren’t going to solve the problems of the world overnight. What she wants, is a world where people don’t hate themselves for self-medicating their own traumas; a world where we don’t judge people for whatever chemicals they put into their own bodies as a result of whatever complicated life journey they may have had.
We want a world that is just a little better educated, a little more compassionate and a little bit more understanding. We want a world where we kill stigma—not a world where stigma kills.
Meghan Ralston is the harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.
Date Published: October 15, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance
Yesterday, working families took a stand against the devastating effects marijuana prohibition has had on the residents of Washington, D.C. The D.C./Maryland chapter of the SEIU, the nation’s largest private sector labor union, the UFCW, and D.C. Working Families came out in support of D.C’s marijuana legalization initiative - Initiative 71 - and took a stand against the discriminatory enforcement practices that target African Americans and Latinos.
“The war on drugs has had a devastating impact on the ability of working families in the District to advance their economic standing,” says Delvone Michael, execuitve director for D.C. Working Families. “A progressive policy like Initiative 71, which removes marijuana from the criminal justice system, would serve as yet another step towards ending this failed policy in the District of Columbia.”
Every day, African-American and Latino families are needlessly torn apart just for minor marijuana possession. In Washington, D.C. African Americans are 8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession even though use among whites is the same.
“Workers who have criminal records that appear in background checks face significant discrimination from employers,” said Terry Cavanaugh, executive director of the D.C./MD State Council of the SEIU. “Initiative 71 is an opportunity for District voters to speak out against this discrimination. It should also embolden the DC Council to continue to make reforms to advance workers’ rights.”
The war on drugs is a war on hard-working African-American and Latino families and repealing marijuana prohibition in our nation’s capital is a pivotal step towards strengthening working class families all throughout America. Nearly 3 million children are growing up in U.S. households in which one or more parents are incarcerate. Ending mass incarceration and deportations due to failed drug policies is a working family issue and it’s incredibly powerful to see some of our nation’s biggest labor unions taking a stand on behalf of working class America.
This endorsement from the unions that serve as the voice of millions of American working families marks a historic step towards eliminating these racist penalties that prevent millions of African Americans and Latinos from having the opportunities to excel in the American workforce and continue to help strengthen our nation’s economy.
It is time we end the failed war on drugs so that no more African-American or Latino families are needlessly torn apart.
Jeronimo Saldaña is the legislative and organizing coordinator for the movement building team at the Drug Policy Alliance.
Correction: An earlier version of this blog post gave the impression that the national chapter of the SEIU supports Initiative 71. The measure was endorsed by the local Washington, DC/Maryland chapter. We regret the error.
Date Published: October 15, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance
Today, the Service Employees International Union, United Commercial Food Workers, and D.C. Working Families endorsed Initiative 71, D.C.’s marijuana legalization initiative. Initiative 71, which is on the November 4th ballot, would legalize the possession of up to two ounces marijuana for adults over the age of 21, and allows individuals to grow up to six plants in their home. D.C. laws prevent the ballot initiative from addressing the taxation and sale of marijuana, however, the D.C. Council is currently considering a bill which would account for such provisions.
"These major labor endorsements show that the elimination of marijuana prohibition is an issue of significant importance to workers in the District of Columbia," said Dr. Malik Burnett, D.C. Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Initiative 71 would eliminate unfairly harsh punishments for minors offenses, making it less likely that our young people get a lifelong criminal record that makes it harder to get a job, an apartment or credit card."
The possession of one ounce of marijuana is currently decriminalized in the District of Columbia, and persons found with more than this amount face a $25 civil infraction. Data from the Metropolitan Police Department reveals that 77% of tickets written during decriminalization have been in communities of color. “The war on drugs has had a devastating impact on the ability of working families in the District to advance their economic standing,” said Delvone Michael, Execuitve Director for D.C. Working Families. “A progressive policy like Initiative 71, which removes marijuana from the criminal justice system, would serve as yet another step towards ending this failed policy in the District of Columbia.”
Last week the D.C. Council voted unanimously to allow individuals with criminal records for marijuana possession to have those records sealed. This is the first of two votes required for this law to take effect. The second vote will take place later in October. “Workers who have criminal records that appear in background checks face significant discrimination from employers,” said Terry Cavanaugh, Executive Director of the D.C./MD State Council of the SEIU. “Initiative 71 is an opportunity for District voters to speak out against this discrimination. It should also embolden the DC Council to continue to make reforms to advance workers’ rights.”
On October 30th, the D.C. Council will hold a joint hearing of the Business Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee and the Tax and Revenue Committee to look at the business and fiscal impact of marijuana legalization in the District of Columbia. Advocates will provide testimony in support of using the proceeds from legalization towards rebuilding the communities harmed by the war on drugs.
“The legalization of marijuana in Washington State and Colorado has not only created small businesses, which provide jobs with living wages, but has generated tax revenue dedicated towards improving public education and public safety, said Mark P. Federici, President, UFCW Local 400. “Given the significant damage that prohibition has caused in communities of color within the District of Columbia, it only makes sense that both the jobs and tax revenue should be invested in those same communities.”Author:
Date Published: October 14, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance
Rock the Vote is off to a glorious start in encouraging young people to vote this election season with a star-studded video featuring the likes of Lil Jon, Lena Dunham, Fred Armisen and Whoopi Goldberg. The video spoofs Lil Jon’s summer smash “Turn Down for What” and asks voters which issues are inspiring them to “turn out” this election year. “Turn Out for What” has more than 4 million views and 150 media hits since it was released early this week.
Getting young people out to vote in an off-year election, where there is no presidential race, is notoriously challenging. The stakes are high and history could be made on the very issue that is Lil Jon‘s motivation to “turn out:” marijuana legalization.
Voters in Oregon, the District of Columbia and Alaska have the power to choose an end to marijuana prohibition, and put a stop to all the economic and social waste that comes with it. Building on the momentum of Colorado and Washington, where voters have already gone the route of legalization, the outcome on November 4 will be pivotal. Although a majority of Americans favor making marijuana legal, victory is not guaranteed. Not surprisingly, younger people are among the most supportive of marijuana policy reform, and getting them energized to vote will be the deciding factor. Oregon’s mail-in ballot system also dampens youth turnout because many young people have little-to-no experience using snail mail.
So, a big applause to Rock the Vote and all the celebrities “turning out”. Lil Jon, we are happy to have you on board. Your voice and influence have the potential to make a huge difference. Thanks also to Natasha Lyonne, who appears in the video saying that she is “turning out” for prison reform. Right on.
If you believe it’s time to stop arresting hundreds of thousands of people every year simply for possessing a small amount of marijuana, we need you to “turn out” in states with marijuana reform initiatives to help make this election year “turn out” right. Your vote could be heard around the world.
Sharda Sekaran is the managing director of communications for the Drug Policy Alliance.
Date Published: October 10, 2014
Published by Drug Policy Alliance