Reparations In California

Tom Houseman Uncategorized

The toll taken by the War on Drugs is enormous and incalculable. People had their lives destroyed for minor infractions, and that damage can never be undone. Still, there must be a way for the government to make up for the harm it has caused, and the lives it has destroyed, in the pursuit of the impossible goal of a “Drug-Free America” that resulted in overly harsh law enforcement targeting urban communities of color.

One way to begin to repair this damage is through policy designed to improve the lives of victims of overly punitive marijuana policies in states that have since legalized recreational use. Knowing that marijuana is now legal will be cold comfort to those who spent years in prison for being caught holding a joint, who cannot get public housing or federal student loans because of a criminal record, who have found themselves unemployable because of a box on a job application that they have to check.

Countless policies at the state and federal levels seem designed to destroy the lives of convicted felons, to make their path to rehabilitation more challenging, to hinder their ability to build a stable life and to increase the likelihood of recidivism. Not only should these punishments no longer be inflicted on those who have unnecessarily suffered for infractions since made legal, but steps can and should be taken to ensure that victims of the drug war receive restitution for the suffering they endured. Unfortunately, policy regarding legalization does not always take this approach.

Among the many policies related to marijuana legalization that seem to favor the white and rich are the various employment and licensing restrictions placed on those with previous criminal convictions. Essentially, this means that anybody arrested for selling marijuana when it was illegal is barred from reaping the rewards of its legalization. Accounting for the fact that the strict regulations on marijuana sales makes the price of opening a dispensary extremely high, the effect of this legislation is that those who suffered under overly aggressive laws for decades (typically minorities living in poverty-dense neighborhoods) cannot benefit from marijuana legalization. Instead, all of the money will go to people who are already wealthy and were never caught smoking marijuana.

If state and local governments do not account for the damage they have done and take steps to atone for it, the history of racial injustice in drug policy enforcement will leave a long and painful legacy. In 2016, three states voted to legalize recreational marijuana: Massachusetts, Nevada, and California. While dispensaries in Nevada have already been up and running for months, the process of regulating the sale of marijuana in California, which has largely been left up to local jurisdictions, has been slow and complicated. Yet one recent development from the Los Angeles City Council shows that they are taking seriously their responsibility to lift up communities that have been harshly punished by the drug wars.

Herb Wesson, the LA City Council President, has proposed a program that would support people convicted of marijuana offenses by expunging their records and helping them set up legal dispensaries. In an idea inspired by one proposed by the Oakland city government, the city would provide assistance with licensing, and even offer reduced rent on vacant city properties. In addition, new dispensaries would be required to hire a certain number of low-income workers in order to maintain their license. California law prohibits local governments from giving preferential treatment based on race or ethnicity, but since the war on drugs has so disproportionately punished people of color, this form of reparation is almost certain to have the intended effect.

One of the main arguments in favor of marijuana has long been the revenue that will be raised to fill the coffers of states and cities, and undoubtedly the taxes raised from marijuana sales, coupled with the money saved by not having to enforce drug laws, will be enormously beneficial. But cities need to do more than legalizing marijuana and wait for the money to roll in if they want to heal the wounds inflicted by decades of discriminatory policies. By erasing the drug convictions of low-level offenders and helping them enter the rapidly expanding legal marijuana market, California has created a model for how to repair the harm it has caused. Hopefully, other cities will follow suit.

DARE Is Not the Answer

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp Uncategorized

There are many reasons to legalize marijuana in all states, not just the eight that have already done so.  No longer will we continue to ruin hundreds of thousands of lives through arrests for marijuana possession.  Police, our courts, and prosecutors will be put to far better use.  Marijuana will be safer through the regulation of how it is sold and who sells it. We will stop subsidizing the drug cartels that profit from control over the black market.

But as important as all of those factors are in considering marijuana legalization, perhaps the most significant reason to move towards legalization is that it will make it possible for us finally to provide drug education, especially to our youth, in a way that works because it is open and honest.  That is not possible now.

Our national policy on marijuana is abstinence because it has to be.  When a substance is illegal what else can we expect schools to tell children but to never use it? Unless we really expect that teenagers never will or should experiment with marijuana, where does that leave our programs of drug education?   Short answer:  they can’t, and, for the most part, do not work.

In the current issue of the Journal of the American Health Association, Dr. David Nathan and his co-authors wrote that “Cannabis prohibition for adults does not prevent underage use… Unfortunately, prohibition sends the message that marijuana is dangerous for everyone, because it is illegal for everyone, and children know that is not true.  If we want our children to believe us when we say that cannabis can be harmful to them, our laws should reflect the difference in health effects of underage and adult use.”

This distinction between underage and adult use is lost, of course, on our Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  For him, and much of the federal bureaucracy, all drug use is bad.  That is why the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (DARE) has been the most prominent federally-funded drug education since its founding in 1983.

My colleague Tom Houseman has written that “DARE is famous for its distinctive slogan, its use of police officers as teachers, the pledge it has students sign to remain drug-free, and the countless studies that have proven it to be, at best, almost completely ineffective.”

To the extent that DARE relies on police officers to stand in front of a classroom full of high school students and lecture them on the dangers of drug use, such programs are pedagogically unsound.  Do we really believe that kids will respond to being told what to do, especially when what they are hearing does not jibe with their own experience, and what they know adults are doing?

Faced with criticism over the years, DARE has made efforts to adjust.  Jeff Sessions: The message has largely shifted away from “just say no” and introduced life skills training, and often drug use is not discussed at all. But without being able to teach harm reduction and safe use, the idea of “just say nothing” will barely be more effective than “just say no.”

Harm reduction calls upon us to be present and offer resources for those struggling with addiction without insisting on abstinence. This should be the starting point for all that we do in relation to drug use, including the education of our youth.

The concept of “abstinence only” is incompatible  with “harm reduction.”  This does not for a second mean that abstinence is wrong, or should be discouraged.  It means only that harm reduction is both more realistic and more helpful to the majority of teenagers when it comes to drug education.

Activist and educator Marsha Rosenbaum, captures the key point in the title of her booklet “Safety First:  A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs.”  This is what we need.  This is what we should work toward as we stop living in the darkness of drug prohibition, and even the twilight zone of decriminalization.

Drug legalization will make good education possible.



Ira Glasser: The Case for Repairing the Harm

Sanya Singh Legalization, Racial Inequality

The Drug Policy Alliance Conference included a Town Hall Meeting on “The Case for Reparations: 50 Years After the Drug War and Mass Incarceration, What Does America Owe Us? Ira Glasser, board chair of the DPA and one of the panelists, argued that the GI Bill of Rights offers both a model and a cautionary tale in considering reparations as a response to the War on Drugs. Here are excerpts from his remarks.

The War on Drugs is just the latest form of racial subjugation. We’re talking really about the history of 300 years, and there is no way of talking about repairing harm without talking about all of that.  When you get to get this age, you get to be a historian.  When you start talking about things, you find out that nobody knows anything. They’re not coming from the same place you’re coming from and they’re not sharing the same premises because they don’t share the same facts.

People don’t know what the GI Bill of Rights did.  It provided tuition for college, high school, vocational school, training schools.  It provided living expenses for people going to school. It provided low-cost loans without a down payment, low-cost mortgages without a down payment for people to buy homes when they came back from the war.  It provided low-cost loans for people to start businesses, credit for people to start businesses, for people who had no assets.

And it didn’t do that with a means test.  They did it for everyone.  Because everybody had suffered the disadvantage, everybody was going to get the repair.  And they didn’t do it just for the people who were in combat.  They did it for people who were on active duty for 90 days or more.  90 days!

And you compare what that repair was targeting with what we’re talking about and you have to conclude that if it was a moral obligation to pass the GI Bill of Rights, that moral obligation is multiplied by a factor of thousands for the people we’re talking about.

This [case] has never been made to the white liberal audience who thinks they’re with us.  They don’t know about it.  You have to get past their sense of defensiveness.  They feel like you’re accusing them of racism when you tell them they have a moral obligation.

They wouldn’t feel that way if they had had an accident in a car.  The idea of repairing the damage that the state of official law and policy has done is not an alien concept. It’s established in our country.  It’s established in our culture.  It’s established in our law.  So you have to ask yourself: why is it received so radically?  It’s racism in this context.  And the answer has to be that it is very different when you’re talking about people of darker skin color.

One more thing.  In order to get the GI Bill passed, Congress needed the votes of southern Democrats.  This is 1945–46. And in order to get it passed, part of the way it was passed was the understanding that the federal government would get it passed, but it was going to be administered locally. Local white folks would get to decide who got these benefits.

There were 67,000 mortgages enabled by the GI Bill of Rights in the first year after it was passed, and fewer than 100 went to people who were not white.  There were 100,000 people in the first year, black people, who applied for the education benefits.  Fewer than 20% got them.

Looking at the GI Bill of Rights, you get a rationale for what we’re trying to move toward that’s very powerful and compelling.  But at the same time, the way the GI Bill of Rights was administered and played out describes the problem that we have even with the white liberal audience of people that we think should be with us.  We need to find a way to translate that sense of moral obligation to them even if they are not racists.

Why Leading Physicians Urge Legal Marijuana

Sanya Singh Decriminalization, Legalization, Medical Marijuana

Three nationally prominent physicians have just spoken out in a prestigious journal in support of marijuana legalization.  The November issue of the American Journal of Public Health features an article by Dr. H. Westley Clark, Dr. Joyce Elders, and Dr. David Nathan titled “The Case for Marijuana Legalization.”

Dr. Clark has a distinguished record as the Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment SAMSHA for 16 years.  He is currently Dean’s Executive Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at Santa Clara University.

Dr.  Elders is well known as the former Surgeon General under President William Clinton; she is now professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Dr. Nathan is a psychiatrist in Princeton, New Jersey and serves as the Director of Continuing Medical Education for the Princeton HealthCare System (PHCS).  In 2015 he joined with colleagues to found Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), described in the article as “the first and only national physicians organization dedicated to the legalization and regulation of the adult use of cannabis.”

“The unjust prohibition of marijuana has done more damage to public health than has marijuana itself,” according to these three experts.  They point to the high number of marijuana arrests—about 575,000 every year in the United States; the disproportionate impact of marijuana laws on African Americans; and the fact that the implementation of current marijuana laws leads to increased poverty, itself a public health issue.

The authors argue that prohibition has failed: “over 22,000 million Americans use cannabis each month.” They note that “both marijuana and alcohol can adversely affect brain development in minors.” But they point out that prohibition has not prevented underage use; in fact, it misleads by sending a message that marijuana is dangerous for everyone, which youth “know is not true.”

The authors believe that decriminalization (treating low-level marijuana possession as a civil offense, comparable to a traffic ticket), is a welcome step.  Decriminalization does not, however, end the need for regulation, which enables individuals to know what they are using, protects against a contaminated product, and can constrain bad marketing practices, such as targeting youth.

The article offers a set of recommendations about how marijuana should be legalized, including government oversight of production, testing, distribution, and sales, rigorous standards of labeling, clear information about amount and content of what is being consumed; and other measures.

Here is the full text of the article.

Michelle Alexander Urges “Victories for All of Us” – Complete Speech

Sanya Singh Legalization, Racial Inequality


It is really such an honor to be here with all of you.  I look out and I see so many faces that I recognize, so many people that I deeply admire, people who have inspired me, whose work has guided me and challenged me in countless ways – (names obscured by applause) — the list could go on and on.  People who have made such a remarkable difference in my own life.

I’ve been giving some thought to what I might say here today, how I spend my short time that I have with you. I could spend all of it just singing the praises of the people in this room and celebrating the extraordinary accomplishments, the victories that have been won in recent years, as recently as yesterday.

But I want to be more than a just cheerleader right now.  I want to speak candidly as someone who, like many of you, considers myself part of this movement but also as someone who is concerned for its future. Standing here I’m filled with such an odd mixture of overwhelming gratitude and some trepidation.

In so many ways this is the best and worst of times for drug policy reform.  There has been an extraordinary tidal wave of extraordinary successes – mind-blowing victories for marijuana decriminalization and legalization, due in no small part to the brilliant and strategic advocacy of people in this very room.  Public support for marijuana decriminalization and legalization have never been higher – at record highs.  Last November marijuana legalization initiatives prevailed in four states, medical marijuana prevailed in another four states.

It seems as though we have reached a tipping point.  And yet, at the same time, at the same very moment, we face an unprecedented drug crisis in this country. Drug overdoses are at a record high, making the crack epidemic seem somewhat mild by comparison.  A recent report by the Police Executive Research Forum revealed that drug overdose deaths totaled over 64,000 last year, a 21% increase over 2015. About 3/4th of all those deaths involved opioids.  America has 4% of the world’s population and 27% of the world’s overdose deaths.  And many experts predict that we have not seen the worst of it yet.

Already drug overdose deaths are more numerous than HIV deaths were in 1995 in the first year ever of the AIDS epidemic. Drug overdose deaths last year alone outweighed American fatalities in the entire course of the Vietnam War. And, yes, there is an outcry over the opioid crisis but it’s relatively new considering the magnitude of the crisis.  And I know that I am not alone in being struck by the drastic difference between the two recent drug epidemics that have swept this nation — opioids and crack

The crack epidemic killed just a tiny fraction of those who are dying of opioid overdoses today.  And yet a literal war was declared on the users of crack – a purely punitive, militaristic war.  Today the opioid crisis is much, much worse.  And yet there is no wall-to-wall media coverage, demonizing and shaming opioid drug users and dealers.  There’s no live TV coverage of drug addicts and dealers rounded up in mass raids. (applause drowned out some words here).  And there are few politicians portraying them as people worthy of care and compassion, not as despicable scum of the earth that have to be gotten rid of by any means necessary.

Things are very, very different this time around, and we all know why.  Whiteness makes the difference. If the overwhelming majority of the users and dealers of opioids today were black rather than white, we wouldn’t have police chiefs competing with each other over whose department is showing more compassion for people struggling with drug addiction.

I want to be clear that I am very glad that the Executive Police Research Forum is actually bragging in a recent report that many police departments are sending officers to the home of addicts to pay them kind visits and invite them to treatment and offer support.  But I’m not as optimistic as some of my friends about the future of drug policy.

I’m told that this new-found tolerance and compassion for white users will translate into a permanent ceasefire for the drug war and that the shift in law and policy will ultimately benefit peoples of all races and classes in the long run.

I have my doubts about this.  Clearly, the victories for marijuana decriminalization and legalization have benefitted people of all colors as arrest rates have declined dramatically in many states, even though severe racial disparities still remain. Discriminatory enforcement hasn’t changed much.  But at least the total number of people arrested and criminalized has declined.  This is a positive development of all peoples of all colors.

No, my concern lies elsewhere.  I’m concerned about the cyclical nature of reform and retrenchment in this country, particularly with respect to race. The great legislative victories for legalizing marijuana in several states did not occur in a vacuum.  They occurred on the very same night that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, an election that was made possible in no small part by deliberate and explicit appeal to white racial resentment and anxiety.

Some have said this is a very strange paradigm – progressive drug policy sweeping the nation at the very same moment that Donald Trump is elected President of the United States and fierce drug warrior is appointed Attorney General.  How do we explain this crazy state of affairs?

Yet from where I sit, there is no paradox, no mystery at all. There is a common denominator underlying both this drug reform victory and the election of Donald Trump. It is called whiteness.  Over and over again in American history, this nation has unleashed a wave of punitiveness whenever a drug came to be associated with black and brown people.  And then predictably – you can set your watch to it – when the color of drug users and dealers fades to white – our nation suddenly reverses course.

Attitudes change.  Policies change.  Compassion bubbles to the surface in the public discourse.  Numerous historians have documented this unmistakable pattern.  And by the same token, throughout our nation’s history, there has always been fierce, the overwhelming backlash against even the appearance of racial progress.  Always.  You can set your watch to that one, too.

And while some may argue that the racial justice gains of the Obama election were symbolic, the symbolism was powerful, and deeply disturbing to millions, inciting an electoral backlash that we should have seen coming.

Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that the presidential election and the drug policy victories of the last year were solely about race.  But at the same time, can we honestly imagine that the drug reform victories of the last year in all those states would have been possible in the midst of the crack epidemic?

Just for a moment try our nation legalizing any drug, of any kind, in the middle of any drug epidemic that was affecting primarily black or brown people.  Imagine pot being legalized near the peak of the crack epidemic.  And then try to imagine that all the newly legal drug empires that are being launched are being led by young black men with wild Afros and tattoos rather than young rich white men with ponytails and beards.

Drug reform policies became possible in these years because the media was no longer saturated with images of black and brown dealers and addicts.  The color of drug users and dealers got whiter in the public imagination, so we as a nation got nicer.

Now that’s not to say that these changes were inevitable. That’s not what I’m saying at all. An enormous amount of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears went into those victories.  I’m just asking us today to pause long enough to absorb the truth that the white face of medical marijuana in the media, and the white male face of legal pot entrepreneurs, and the white male face of drug users and abusers of the current opioid epidemic, and white face of drug heroes in the media, such as those featured in Breaking Bad, made it possible for mainstream white voters to feel a kind of empathy that was entirely lacking for black and brown folks just twenty years ago.

Again, my point isn’t to minimize these legislative victories in any way.  Rather, it is my hope that we will interrogate these victories and consider what they might teach us about the future of our movement.

As I see it, the movement convened right here in this room stands at a critical crossroad.  What happens in the months and years to come will likely determine whether our movement succeeds or fails in the long run. And I don’t think it is an overstatement to say the path we ultimately choose may have enormous implications for the success and failure of our democracy as a whole.

I hope it is not controversial to say that our democracy is in a state of crisis.  The gravity of the situation can be overwhelming.  And it’s tempting in times like this to narrow our focus and think small.  To think narrowly, very, very pragmatically and even defensively about what can be done to advance a single issue in a complex and worrisome political environment.

But I want to challenge all of us here today to think big, to go big – or stay home.  Let’s be reckless, throw caution to the winds?  Not at all.  But I say think big.  We must begin to think bigger.  Much, much bigger.  Beyond drug policy, and consider more carefully how drug policy fits into the bigger picture of American democracy. We must dig deep enough so that our victories truly become truly victories for all of us. All of us. As I see it, any victory that is dependent on whiteness in whole or in part is truly not a victory for us all.

When my book The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, was first released, and no one was reading it, I had a meeting with a very influential leader and thinker of drug policy reform.  He said to me, “I’ve read your book and I agree with just about everything you say here.  But there’s one thing that bothers me.   It seems like you’re arguing here that we need to end racism in order to end the War on Drugs.  I don’t think so.  I think we can win this War on Drugs without ending racism.  I don’t think we’re going to end racism in our lifetime and I intend to end the War on Drugs with or without ending racism.

Shortly after Trump was elected, and a drug warrior was appointed attorney general, with his white supremacist attempted a revolution, I sent an email to this individual: “Remember what you said you didn’t have to end racism to end the War on Drugs? What do you think now?”

I was half-joking.  I’m not so naïve to think that we are going to end racism just by having better organizing strategies or by waving a magic wand.  But I do believe that we must be committed to placing race and racial justice at the very center of the drug policy movement.

Lately, I find that when I talk to drug reformers and say things like that, racial justice must be central to our movement, people nod, and they say, “Oh yeah, oh yeah, that’s so right, oh yeah.” And for a while, I was just really encouraged by these platitudes until I started asking some follow-up questions.  And then I found that whoever gave this new-found commitment to racial justice was a little thin in practice.

For some advocates, making racial central means quoting a lot of racial disparity data. It means posting to social media the latest, most horrific thing that Donald Trump has said. I’m not a fan of this approach.  Nearly all of the available research shows that merely sharing racial disparity data without a great deal of political and social and historical context, and lots of story-telling, only confirm pre-existing racial stereotypes and biases.

There’s a deeper problem lurking here.  And the deeper problem has nothing to do with what doesn’t work to change people’s minds. The bigger problem is understanding what does work.  People do change their minds when victims of drug policy are white.  People do become far more punitive when the face of drugs or crime is black or brown.  That’s a fact.

And these facts are not merely inconvenient.  The implications are profound.  Taken together, these facts mean that so long as the progressive public consensus about drugs is rooted in compassion for white people, the consensus will not last for long.  Why? Because sooner or later, the face of drug abuse will change.  It always has.  No racial group has ever had a permanent monopoly on drug addiction.  And the minute the color of addiction changes, that so-called consensus will begin to unravel, and we’ll be back to a full-out war.

Now, this dilemma is not limited to drug policy, of course.  In every of public policy, there is the risk that progressive gains that are made with white people in mind will vanish the minute that black and brown people become the primary beneficiaries.  Research shows that white people are more generous and forgiving of each other than of those who are conceived as others.

Cognitive science teaches us that they can’t help it most of the time. We are all primed to value and prefer those who seem to us.  This is true of whites, for whom centuries of brainwashing have led them to actually believe they are in fact superior.

Mark Mauer, in his excellent book Race to Incarcerate, provides data showing that the most punitive nations in the world are the most diverse.  The nations with the most compassionate or the most lenient criminal justice policies are the most homogeneous. We like to say that diversity is our strength, and it may actually be our Achilles Heel.

Researchers have reached similar conclusions in the public welfare context. The democracies that have the most generous social welfare programs – universal health care, cheaper free college education, generous maternity leave, on and on – are generally the most homogeneous.  Socialist countries like Sweden and Norway are overwhelmingly white.  But when those nations feel threatened by immigration, by so-called border invasion, public support for so-called generous public welfare begins to erode.  We see this quite sharply.

It seems that it is an aspect of human nature to be tempted to be more punitive, to be less generous to those we view as others.  So when a nation like the United States, where we are just a few generations away from slavery and Jim Crow, where inequality is skyrocketing due to global capitalism, where we are now a nation in which no racial group is a majority; a central question we must face in this movement is whether ‘We the People’ are capable of overcoming our basic instinct to respond more harshly, or more punitively with less care and concern, for people we view as different.

Can we evolve?  Can we evolve morally and spiritually – to learn to care for each other across lines of race and class, gender and sexuality, across all forms of difference?  In times like these, clearly, these questions are pressing in the Age of Trump.  These are also the very questions that we must be asking regardless of who is president.

On the home page of the Drug Policy Alliance website, the first sentence of the mission statement says, “We believe drug policy should be based on science, health, and human rights; not fear and stigma.” I read that mission statement as challenging us as a nation to alleviate each others’ suffering, rather multiplying it, to respond with reason and compassion rather than fear and stigma, and to honor basic human rights. It’s a mission statement that points to something bigger, much bigger, than just drug policy reform.

The state of our democracy depends in no small part on what happens in spaces like this.  Whether and how we learn to build movements that re-imagine ways of seeing and relating to one another, will determine the future not only of drug policy but the future of our democracy.  And, in so many ways, the fate of the global community hangs in the balance.

Now the good news is that drug policy presents incredible opportunities for reimaging what our democracy and can and should be    We have the opportunity in this movement to educate people of all colors about how our racial history defines us all.

White folks today would have a much better public health infrastructure and more treatment options available to them if it wasn’t for the birth of a racist drug war.  Many white folks are suffering and dying today because of a drug war declared with black folks in mind.  Thousands of immigrants are being locked up, warehoused in private detention centers that would not even exist today but for the anti-black racism of the drug war.

We have the opportunity to demonstrate through our movement how the same forms of racially divisive politics that helped to birth the drug war and mass incarceration are playing out all over again in strikingly similar fashion, this time leading to a system of mass deportation playing out on a scale rarely seen in human history.  We can do that through this movement.

Few issues, few causes, few movements provide a better opportunity to practice reparations.  We have a lot to learn.  As a nation, we don’t have a lot of practice at repairing the historical harm that has been caused to poor people and people of color.  But we can get started in a real way in this movement, right here and right now.

And I think it’s fair to say that this movement, as much as any other, provides an extraordinary opportunity for us to practice with one another and with the communities we serve what it means to show care and compassion across lines of race, class, and difference.  People of all races and backgrounds are losing loved ones to this drug war, some to fatal overdoses, others to addiction, and millions more to prison and jail cells.

Finally, this movement gives us a chance to talk about capitalism, our culture of ruthless competition and individualism, its possible role in creating so much of the despair that makes the United States the world leader in drug addiction as well as incarceration.  By interrogating capitalism in the context of drug policy reform we can also ask important questions such as:  what really does a fair market look like when some groups are denied access to markets in this new business?  And when, if ever, should the free market be trusted, particularly when dangerous drugs are the commodity?

These essential questions regarding race, capitalism, economic justice, racial justice, and reparations are all bound up in drug policy reform today, making this movement extremely fertile ground for beginning to reimagine the kind of democracy and global community we aim to co-create.

None of this will be easy, and I won’t pretend to have the answers to many of the most vexing questions.  But what I do know is that simply citing racial disparity statistics and retweeting racism won’t build a sturdy foundation for a truly transformative movement.  Nor will efforts to capitalize on the empathy for white folks in the midst of an unprecedented drug epidemic.

If we choose to think big, really big, and deliberately align our drug policy with the larger work of building a thriving multiracial, multiethnic democracy that truly honors the lives of all of us, a world of possibilities begins to emerge.  Suddenly we’re not just fighting for isolated drug policy reform battles anymore, we’re steadily building the foundation for a new way of life, a new way of life together.

As we go down this revolutionary road – and it is a revolutionary road – we’re going to have to build a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-gender, grassroots movement from the bottom up.  We are going to have to learn to reach across the lines that have divided us, not just for decades, but for centuries. We’re going to have to learn to listen to each other, argue with each other, and work together to build this sturdy foundation.  We’re going to have to learn to listen and accept leadership from the people who have been most harmed.

No matter where you find yourself in this work today, I hope that you will eventually come to see this beautiful, vibrant, raucous movement as being about much more than drug policy. It can, if we let it, become a movement that is fundamental to the remaking of our democracy.

I hope and pray that one day when the history of this movement is written, that it will be said that we, those of us in this room today, vowed to do more than win kinder, fairer, more compassionate drug policy.  Instead, we committed ourselves to a revolution, to placing racial justice at the center of our world, and committed ourselves with all the courage we can muster to build a New America.


Transcribed by Alexander E. Sharp

Executive Director, Clergy for a New Drug Policy


NOTE:  Some words lost to applause as the speech was taped.