Blog Post

Are You Outraged by the Drug War Yet?

Julie Netherland

This holiday season, a time when I am normally filled with thoughts of light and hope, I find myself reflecting on the horrors of our failed war on drugs. I’m thinking about all the families torn apart by the drug war – all the families who won’t be spending time together this holiday season.

I’m thinking about the deaths of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers college in Guerrero, Mexico -- needless deaths wrought out of a violent drug war that spans both sides of the Mexican – American border. I’m thinking of 43 families who won’t sit down together this Christmas because their children were “rounded up and ‘disappeared’ in a town where officials and drug lords are all wrapped up together.”

Are you outraged yet?

I’m thinking of the more than two million Americans spending time in prison this holiday season, a huge proportion of whom are incarcerated on drug-related charges. And I’m thinking of the 2.7 million children under 18 years old in the U.S.  who have a parent in jail or prison – an absolutely staggering number driven in large part by our war on drugs. Almost three million young people who will be missing a parent this holiday.

Are you outraged yet?

I’m thinking of the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Ramarley Graham and thousands of other African American families who, not only saw their sons gunned down, but also saw them villianized by a media that accused them of using marijuana -- as if using marijuana were justification for murder. And I’m thinking about all the ways we use our outdated fears, prejudices and stereotypes about drugs and the people who use them to devalue Black and Brown lives.

Are you outraged yet?

This holiday season, I am especially thinking about eight-year-old Donella Nocero who passed away last week following her battle with brain cancer. And I am thinking about her father, Nate, who gave medical marijuana to his little girl in an effort to stop her tumor from growing, alleviate her pain, and reduce the intense narcotic medications that made her almost comatose.

For trying to save his daughter and spend a little more time with his girl at the end of her life, Nate was targeted by Child Protective Services and ultimately told he couldn’t give Donnie the medicine he knew helped her. I’m thinking of the other families I know who have already lost a child or worry daily about losing a child because they cannot legally obtain the medical marijuana that might save their child’s life. I’m thinking about how their pleas for emergency access to medical marijuana have so far gone unheeded by lawmakers.

Are you outraged yet?

This holiday season, if you are fortunate enough to sit down with your family, take a moment to reflect on all the families who aren’t so lucky this year.  Think about all the families who will have an empty chair at their holiday dinner because our failed drug war policies have killed or imprisoned someone they love.

Together, let’s recommit in 2015 to dismantle this failed and tragic war and to work together to heal the destruction it has wrought.  Let’s turn outrage into action.

That’s my hope for the holidays.

Julie Netherland is the New York deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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