Colorado recently emerged as an epicenter of drug policy reform in this country. In 2012, voters in the state approved a groundbreaking initiative to tax and regulate marijuana for adult use. In the last two years, the state also legalized syringe exchange programs, established the most comprehensive medical marijuana regulatory system in the nation, and enacted bold sentencing, parole, community re-entry, and overdose prevention policy reforms.
In 2011, the Drug Policy Alliance expanded its state-based advocacy to Colorado and appointed Denver-based Art Way to its first staff position in the Centennial State. Building on recent statewide reforms, DPA's Colorado priorities are to minimize the costly and ineffective role of the criminal justice system in addressing drug-related issues, to increase statewide support for proven, health-centered drug policies such as expanded access to sterile syringes, and to help implement and defend the voter-approved initiative to legalize marijuana for adults.
The Drug Policy Alliance believes that supervised injection facilities (SIFs) are urgently needed in Colorado. SIFs, also known as safer injection facilities or supervised consumption services (SCS), are legally sanctioned facilities designed to reduce the health and public order issues often associated with public injection. They are empirically shown to save money while improving public health.
Colorado has made strides in improving harm reduction services like sterile syringe access and naloxone availability, but our communities still experience far too many needless overdose deaths with rates higher than the national average. It is time for Colorado to take the next step in public health-based drug policy by establishing SIFs.
DPA believes that people who use drugs without experiencing problems should not be harmed by drug policies. People who do struggle with substance misuse should not face inhumane, wasteful collateral consequences that just perpetuate problematic drug use.
Colorado has begun to reverse the excesses of the drug war, including the mass arrest and incarceration of low-level drug offenders. It is essential to raise the voices of drug users themselves as well as health care professionals to balance the dominant role law enforcement plays in determining drug policy.
Through our partnership with the University Of Colorado School Of Public Health, we hosted a foundational New Directions conference with experts from Canada, Portugal, and the United States addressing attendees from Colorado’s public health, human services, and harm reduction fields. We are committed to working in coalition with communities and state agencies also focused on drug policy issues. These partnerships will be invaluable as we promote ground-breaking drug policy reforms in the coming years.
Often, the consequences of low-level drug arrests far outweigh the impact of drug misuse itself. We recognize that conditions such as poverty, pervasive racism, mental health challenges, inadequate access to medical care, and homelessness also contextualize drug use and often worsen the impacts of punitive enforcement within our most vulnerable populations.
DPA works to ensure that the collateral consequences many face in Colorado do not guarantee perpetual second-class citizenship and the inability to escape the labels and stereotypes of having been a “drug offender.” Colorado must sever the relationship between drug use and criminal justice-involvement and reduce barriers to re-entry by developing meaningful alternative solutions to punitive enforcement.
Through the Colorado LEAD Campaign, we are promoting a public health and harm reduction approach to drug use and mental health. LEAD will create opportunities for Colorado jurisdictions to implement pre-booking diversion (no arrest or fingerprinting takes place). This is designed to bolster access to supportive wraparound services and reduce the role of the criminal justice system in the management of substance use-related problems. This model is a positive way to reform punitive drug enforcement culture and is proven to reduce recidivism, save money and improve police/community relations
Over the past several years, DPA, in coalition with various community partners, has lobbied for the successful passage of evidence-based, public health interventions that lessen barriers to essential social services, reduce drug user stigma, and prevent needless overdose deaths.
As a result, the state now has a 911 Good Samaritan law, widespread access to the overdose antidote, naloxone, and legal syringe availability through registered service providers. These and future health-based approaches will help reduce the harms associated with both drug use and misuse, and the detrimental drug policies of our past.
We are committed to creating and maintaining productive dialogue surrounding drug use and misuse issues with the goal of shifting current paradigms from a criminal justice to a public health approach. To that end, we advocate for innovative, evidence-based models in Colorado such as law enforcement assisted diversion (LEAD), safe consumption spaces/safe injection facilities (SIFs) and heroin-assisted treatment (HAT).
In addition, through our participation in the Colorado Coalition to Protect Children and Family Rights, we promote humane child welfare policies to empower families affected by substance use.
After a historic 2012 ballot initiative victory, Colorado has ended nearly a century of marijuana prohibition and is leading the nation towards broad taxation and regulation of marijuana for adult use.
DPA has been an integral voice in the development of sane, effective marijuana regulations:
Once the 2012 initiative passed DPA immediately went to work to ensure those between the ages of 18-20 would not become the new and sole targets of marijuana prohibition efforts in Colorado. The city of Denver has now instituted civil fines for this age group and we are involved on the state level to institute a uniform system of diversion focusing on education instead of criminalization for young people regarding marijuana use and possession.
As other states move forward with similar models, we will work to ensure that Colorado’s implementation process continues to reflect a commitment to reparative justice and public health.
Art Way, State Director, Colorado
Drug Policy Alliance
1839 York Street, #1
Denver, Colorado 80206
Phone: 303 388-8950
Fax: 303 388-8859