When I started work at the Drug Policy Alliance in April of 2000, changing federal drug laws seemed like a near impossibility. So much so that many people advised me it was a waste of time (and a bad career move).
But we achieved some initial small victories, minor changes in a few laws here or there, and kept Congress from making things worse -- most notably being a thorn in the side of drug war crusader Rep. Mark Souder and a little known Senator you might not remember, Joe Biden.
By 2003 we were able to get 152 yes votes on an amendment cutting off funding to the Bush Administration’s medical marijuana raids. By 2010 we were able to reduce crack cocaine sentences by unanimous voice votes in the House and Senate.
Now we have a working bipartisan majority in the House– 219 yes votes to end federal medical marijuana raids and 237 to 246 yes for allowing farmers to grow hemp (depending on how we word the amendment). And bipartisan support for reforming mandatory minimums and letting drug offenders out of federal prison early is strong enough we might be able to do it this year. And if not this year, then next.
For the first time in the 40 year existence of the failed war on drugs, the end is in sight. There’s a long road ahead, including getting last night’s reforms through the Senate, but it is clear that the consensus in favor of punitive drug policies has collapsed and a new consensus based on compassion, science, health and human rights is emerging.
DPA’s strategy of getting states to opt out of the prohibitionist paradigm has finally succeeded in changing politics at the national level and I don’t think there’s any going back.
There’s a lot more work to do but at least we know that the path we are on will get us to where we need to go.
Bill Piper is the director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.