Ending Marijuana Prohibition
With the support of DPA, in November 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to approve marijuana use for all adults over 21 years old with 55% of the vote in each state. The elimination of criminal penalties for possession took effect shortly after the initiatives were passed, and both states are busy developing systems of licensing cultivation and distribution of marijuana. Several other states are now considering tax and regulate. In California, DPA is working with other advocates to help set the stage and prepare to bring a legalization initiative to the ballot in 2016. DPA is committed to supporting an initiative based on research, public health and the expertise and hard work of local municipalities and the medical marijuana industry, which have been engaging in a process of regulation since Proposition 215 was passed in 1996. DPA is confident that the proposed initiative will be comprehensive and will establish a competent, community-based system to tax, regulate and control marijuana in the largest state in the country.
Reducing Health Harms From Drugs
DPA has worked tirelessly to increase sterile syringe access in California to prevent HIV and hepatitis C transmission. In 2011, we won key victories that expanded syringe access to every county in the state. We are preparing now to defend and expand those victories in 2014 when the state’s law allowing for non-prescription sales of syringes will have to be renewed. In 2012, DPA’s California office, with critical support from allies, succeeded in getting 911 Good Samaritan legislation signed and enacted into law. This law provides limited immunity to individuals who seek medical attention to save the life of someone experiencing an overdose. In 2013, we will continue our work to reduce overdose deaths by seeking expanded access to naloxone, a generic, non-narcotic antidote to opiate overdose.
Reducing Mass Incarceration through Criminal Justice Sentencing Reform
U.S. police make over 1.5 million arrests every year for drug law violations. Since the 1970s, drug war practices have led to unprecedented levels of incarceration and the marginalization of tens of millions of Americans – disproportionately poor people and people of color – while utterly failing to reduce problematic drug use and drug-related harms. The severe consequences of a drug arrest are life-long and create permanent barriers to economic and educational attainment, physical and emotional wellbeing and political participation. Criminalization has only intensified the potential harms of drug misuse, while utterly failing to curb drug use or supply. Decriminalization means nobody goes to jail and nobody gets punished simply for possessing a small amount of a drug. This is a model that has proven successful, resulting in decreases in diseases and addiction, without increasing drug use. Decriminalization is an essential tool in establishing a truly public health approach to drugs and drug use.
The drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial and ethnic groups, manifested through racial discrimination by law enforcement and disproportionate drug war misery suffered by communities of color. Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug law violations than are whites. Higher arrest and incarceration rates for Blacks and Latinos are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use or sales, but rather of a law enforcement focus on urban areas, on lower-income communities and on people of color as well as inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system. Please join us in the call for addressing the racial disparities in California’s criminal justice system.
As we move toward our ultimate goal of ending criminal penalties for drug use and possession, in 2014 we are sponsoring legislation to eliminate the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine offenses.
In 2013 Governor Brown vetoed our bill to reduce the criminal penalty for drug possession in California from a felony to a misdemeanor. In 2014 DPA will support partner efforts to put this issue on the ballot, as well as efforts to move our drug policies toward a health-centered approach, cut wasteful drug war spending, and reduce the life-long barriers that follow a drug conviction.