With less than 5% of the world’s population but nearly 25% of its incarcerated population, the United States imprisons more people than any other nation in the world – largely due to the war on drugs. Misguided drug laws and draconian sentencing requirements have produced profoundly unequal outcomes for communities of color. Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial and ethnic lines, blacks and Latinos are far more likely to be criminalized for drug law violations than whites.
A campaign to protect safe access to medical marijuana for PTSD patients
One of the most egregious outcomes of marijuana prohibition is that many seriously ill people cannot legally access the medicine that works best for them. Twenty-four states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico have passed laws legalizing the use of marijuana for qualifying patients under state law. While state medical marijuana programs differ from one another in significant ways, most are tightly controlled programs regulated by the state departments of public health.
Decriminalization of marijuana possession is a necessary first step toward more comprehensive reforms of the drug prohibition regime. Yet decriminalization alone does not address many of the greatest harms of prohibition – such as high levels of crime, corruption and violence, massive illicit markets and the harmful health consequences of drugs produced in the absence of regulatory oversight.
Marijuana arrests are the engine driving the U.S. war on drugs. In 2014, there were 700,993 marijuana arrests in the U.S. – roughly 45 percent of all drug arrests. The overwhelming majority (88 percent) of these arrests were for simple possession, not sale or manufacture. Black and Latino people are arrested at vastly disproportionate rates, even though white people use and sell marijuana at similar rates. A marijuana arrest is no small matter – the arrest creates a permanent criminal record that can easily be found by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies and banks.
For many people, medical marijuana is the only medicine that relieves their pain and suffering, or treats symptoms of their medical condition, without debilitating side effects. Marijuana has been shown to alleviate symptoms of a broad variety of serious medical conditions including cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma, and is often an effective alternative to synthetic painkillers. These are the stories of people who have experienced the medical safety and efficacy of marijuana in their own lives.
Increasing sterile syringe access through syringe exchange programs and non-prescription pharmacy sales is essential to reducing syringe sharing among injection drug users and decreasing rates of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C transmission. Despite the benefits of these life-saving programs, legal and bureaucratic barriers still prevent people who inject drugs from accessing clean syringes.
The U.S. refuses to adopt an evidence-based HIV/AIDS prevention strategy, costing us hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars. However, in countries where addiction is treated as a health issue, the fight against HIV/AIDS is being won. Newly diagnosed HIV infections in many countries have been nearly eliminated among people who use drugs, just as mother-to-child transmission of HIV has been eliminated in countries that make medicines for pregnant women accessible.
The global war on drugs is severely jeopardizing the fight against AIDS. Criminalizing drug use drives the HIV pandemic not just among people who use drugs – but also among their families and communities.