This year marks the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s declaration of war on drugs. Let’s face it. We should have never gone to war in the first place.
Our disgraceful justice system needs to be overhauled, says Virginia senator Jim Webb, and the elephant in the room is our supremely crappy drug policy. For decades, conservative and liberal lawmakers alike have shied away from anything approaching a sensible approach to drug policy reform, fearing the “soft on crime” label. The result? The US, with 5% of the world’s population, holds 25% of the world’s criminals.
But things are changing.
Ethan Nadelmann is feeling good. Really good.
As the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Nadelmann has long advocated for the liberalization of U.S. drug laws — specifically, making marijuana legal, regulated and taxed and ending criminal penalties on the possession and use of all other drugs.
For most of that time the Alliance has been relegated to the fringe of serious policy discussions, a space long occupied – or so the stereotype goes – by radical libertarians and readers of the marijuana enthusiast magazine High Times.
But things are changing. The last few months are “the first time I’ve ever felt that the wind is at my back and not in my face,” Nadelmann said. “There’s a tremendous amount of momentum across the board.”
Consider the developments of the last year. In March, Virginia Sen. Jim Webb introduced a bill calling for a wholesale overhaul of the criminal justice system in the United States. Our system is cripplingly large, he argued, and marred by wrongful incarcerations, poor rehabilitative treatment and mental health care and a price tag of $44 billion a year on prisons alone.
Webb called the situation a “national disgrace,” and said the elephant in the room is sky-high incarceration rates for drug users due to the U.S.’s 40-year-old War on Drugs.
California, the first state to make marijuana legal for medical use, is considering a bill to legalize and tax marijuana for all residents; it had its first hearing in the state assembly last week. Massachusetts voted to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The attorney general of Arizona has said that legal marijuana might be an answer to the Mexican drug cartel violence spilling over into his state.