Blog Post

Talking Turkey About Drug Policy

Jill Harris

The election victories for marijuana legalization and other reforms to our current drug laws will likely bubble up at holiday dinner tables this year – and undoubtedly there will be some differing opinions on how our country should handle drug policy.

I speak with people across the political spectrum about these issues, and I’ve got a few tips. Here is how to talk “turkey” about drug policy reform … without igniting a family feud:

  • Start with areas of agreement: what we’re doing now isn’t working. Most people, of whatever political stripe, agree that the war on drugs has been a decades-long, expensive failure. Moreover, most people, when asked whether drug use should be dealt with as a criminal issue or a health issue, agree that it is better dealt with as a health issue. This is an excellent starting point for a conversation.
  • Make it about people: Many of us know someone who has faced a painful terminal illness that could have been eased by access to medical marijuana, or someone who had a problem with drug use and needed treatment, not jail. Anyone with a drug problem should be treated the way we’d want our loved ones to be treated.
  • The numbers don’t lie: You want to avoid burying folks in numbers, so here’s one killer fact to put out there. The U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population, yet almost 25% of the world’s prisoners. A huge number of those people are incarcerated for drug offenses. It’s costing us a fortune, it’s unsustainable, it’s wrong – and it’s not what America should stand for.
  • Talk about the benefits: Many of our opponents focus on negative “what if” situations when it comes to legalization and reform – ignoring economic growth and regulation, medical benefits to patients, and an end to egregious arrests for “crimes” that do not directly harm others.
  • Above all, listen: Keeping an open mind is the best way to ensure your opinions are heard. Your knowledge of our country’s drug policies may inspire someone to learn more.

Our victories on Election Day prove that we can accomplish great things when we work together.

Wishing you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

Jill Harris is managing director of strategic initiatives at the Drug Policy Alliance.

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