Elizabeth Wittemyer, Attorney At Law Prepared at the Request of the Marijuana Education Initiative When U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to issue a memorandum on January 4, 2018, rescinding the Cole Memorandum, it was clear that his long-time wish to demonize marijuana and criminalize activities around the legal state markets had come to pass. I am an attorney who represents the cannabis industry, and several worried clients and colleagues have wished to discuss the issue and the possible consequences with me. The interplay of state and federal law can be confusing, especially as we consider the effects the Sessions Memo will have on the cannabis industry. Understanding the hierarchy of the U.S. Justice Department and its authority over the states is one way to view how this interplay works. The Justice Department is an executive-branch agency that deals with crimes at the federal level and that enforces federal law. The U.S. Attorney General is a cabinet member appointed by the president and is the nation’s chief law enforcement officer for federal law. U.S. attorneys are employees of the Justice Department and prosecute federal cases brought to them by federal law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA investigates crimes involving cannabis. You might remember from the television show Law and Order, the DEA investigates crimes as law enforcement officers and the U.S. attorneys prosecute in federal courts the crimes brought to them by DEA officers. Marijuana is federally illegal and is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. The DEA is the lead law enforcement agency for the domestic enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act. The Cole Memorandum from 2013 established a new “prosecutorial discretion” regarding cannabis. It was a policy guidance to U.S. attorneys that made the cannabis industry a low prosecutorial priority in states that had legalized cannabis, as long as those states complied with the guidelines contained in the memo—namely, to protect youth and control diversion. What the Jeff Sessions Memo does is reestablish cannabis, regardless of legality within the states, as a prosecutorial priority along with all other federal crimes. In the memo, Sessions encourages the prosecution of other crimes that can be tied to cannabis, such as money laundering and violations of banking regulations. These types of prosecutions will almost certainly include asset forfeiture actions. The Sessions Memo highlights the “Department’s finite resources” and points to principles of prosecution set in 1980, taking us back to the old, failed policies of the war on drugs. Though U.S. attorneys seem to have little appetite to initiate prosecutions against legal cannabis businesses, the same cannot be said of the DEA. In fact, the DEA has always had a Domestic Marijuana Eradication/Suppression Program aimed at completely eradicating cannabis in the United States. According to the Department of Justice Fiscal Year 2016 Budget submitted to Congress, the DEA spent millions of dollars on marijuana eradication efforts, including anti-legalization education programs. Although the cannabis industry blames the DEA for refusing to reschedule cannabis from its present Schedule I status, it is the Department of Health and Human Services that has the legal responsibility to make scientific and medical determinations regarding drug scheduling. The head of HHS Tom Price resigned in a cloud of scandal in September 2017. The president has nominated Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical company executive, to fill the position, and Mr. Azar’s confirmation hearing began January 9, 2018. As cannabis is a competing product to pharmaceuticals, it is highly unlikely that a former representative of the pharmaceutical industry, which holds one of the most powerful lobbies in Congress, will consider rescheduling marijuana. With Azar as head of HHS, the pharmaceutical industry would have even more control over our federal agencies in their quest to demonize cannabis, with Jeff Sessions leading the charge. The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment (formerly the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment) is part of the federal budget established by Congress and has been included in every annual federal budget appropriations since 2014. The amendment prohibits the use of federal funds to supersede legal medical marijuana state laws. What many people do not realize is that the amendment primarily protects medical marijuana and not recreational marijuana. This year, Congress has been unable to agree on the budget and has limped along by making continuing resolutions to keep a government shutdown at bay. The last continuing resolution was on December 22, 2017, and it extended the previous budget to January 19, 2018. The Senate appropriations included the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment; the House version did not after Attorney General Jeff Sessions lobbied against its inclusion. It is unclear what will happen to the amendment amid the many other fights over the budget, including immigration, defense, and domestic programs. Even if the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment is included in the next appropriations bill, the rescission of the Cole Memo places the recreational marijuana industry at particular risk. Federal law supersedes state law, “preempting” state laws that conflict with federal laws. With the Cole Memo, the Obama administration allowed states to experiment with legalization of cannabis, in essence, “promising” not to bring a preemption action in federal court that would shut down a state’s legalization of marijuana. Although many legal scholars argue that the states that have legalized have relied on this federal discretion to their detriment, and therefore there are now legal defenses to a preemption action, the legalized states’ courts are not friendly to cannabis. State law cannot legalize what is illegal under federal law. In several court cases, acts that are legal under state marijuana laws were not protected by the courts owing to the illegality of the act under federal law, and this has led to seizures of inventory and loss of jobs. Cannabis businesses must be very careful in seeking relief in the state courts and should instead opt to negotiate, mediate, or arbitrate disputes whenever possible. Although recreational cannabis stands in particular danger because of its relative lack of credibility compared to medical cannabis, the entire legal cannabis industry is at risk. As we experience the devastating opioid crisis, with thousands of lives lost, the Jeff Sessions Memo begs reason and common sense. President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency; however, no new federal funds were allocated to address the crisis. Medicaid is under attack and will be cut back; by how much is the only question. States, facing budget shortfalls, have cut treatment programs throughout the nation. First responders dealing with opioid overdoses are vicariously traumatized by the horror they experience every day and their resources are stretched to the point of breaking. Our courts, overwhelmed with opioid-related crime cases, have few options to deal with the social ill of addiction through the criminal justice system. We are losing our family, friends, and neighbors every day to opioids. Yet, rather than spend federal money on prosecuting feel-good doctors, pill mills, and foreign actors to attempt to reduce the opioid epidemic, Jeff Sessions will devote the Department of Justice’s finite resources to prosecuting a drug that no one dies from. In fact, research shows the promise of cannabis as an effective treatment in reducing the need for opioids. The question is, therefore, one of where to direct our government’s limited resources. Do we spend federal dollars prosecuting opioids or prosecuting cannabis? Do we spend federal dollars on anti-legalization education or on education that will help our youth make healthy choices around legalization? Education programs such as those of the Marijuana Education Initiative, which provides reality-based education for youth regarding marijuana, are the initiatives that our tax dollars should fund. Now is the time to press our elected representatives to set the nation’s priorities straight. To learn more about the misinformation surrounding marijuana and the opioid epidemic check out our blogs The Truth and Marijuana and Opioids: Sorting Through the Misinformation
Sarah Grippa is a high school teacher in Colorado, a state that legalized marijuana in 2012. In 2015, seeing the need for better ways to educate teens about the risks of marijuana use, she and educator Molly Lutz co-founded the Marijuana Education Initiative to “put the most current, research-based information in the hands of parents, mentors, and educators.” You may assume I am talking about money—specifically, marijuana excise taxes to fund education—but I am not. I am talking about actual education, the kind that takes place between teachers and students, youth-serving organizations and participants, and parents and children. That kind of education is changing—in a good way—as a result of legalized marijuana. Here’s why. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E). a program, a product of the ill-fated War on Drugs whose educational philosophy was “Just Say No,” was the drug education curriculum offered to schools and youth programs. It typically sent uniformed police officers into schools to talk about the dangers of doing drugs. D.A.R.E was accompanied by mandated zero tolerance policies, contributing to a “school to prison pipeline.” A 1998 report from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service stated, “D.A.R.E. does not work to reduce substance use. The program’s content, teaching methods, and use of uniformed police officers rather than teachers might each explain its weak evaluations.” In all fairness, those who created D.A.R.E in the 80s lacked the information about effective teaching that we have today. Educators and curriculum writers had not yet learned that students need to hear prevention information from a trusted adult, that it’s better to keep nonviolent offenders in school than to suspend them, and that protective factors play a large part in preventing drug use. Earlier educators also lacked the technical understanding of how adolescent brains develop that we have today. Though some employed “abstinence-only” programs like D.A.R.E. out of complacency, more often it was because they lacked better options. The legalization of recreational marijuana has forced educators to rethink their approaches to preventing young people from using marijuana. Schools and youth-serving organizations now realize that they can’t talk about marijuana in the same breath as heroin, methamphetamine, or cocaine. There is a clear and concise call for a change in dialogue and approach. Prevention programs like D.A.R.E. are not only ineffective, they are an insult to young people’s intelligence. Youth are fully capable of understanding how their brains are developing, the functioning of the endocannabinoid system, and the differences between recreational and medicinal marijuana use. Today’s youth endure countless standardized tests in their academic career, can navigate the complexities of social media, and can even teach adults how to use SnapChat. They deserve to be told how recreational marijuana use during adolescence can affect their still-developing brain, rather than being told to “Just Say No.” They have the right to develop a compassionate understanding of the differences between medicinal needs—for example, of youth for whom medical marijuana can help manage childhood epilepsy—and recreational use. One of the unexpected outcomes of recreational marijuana legalization has been a positive change in educational practices. Across the US, educators are seeking programs that use reality-based education to empower youth to make informed decisions. Educators, including me, have reinvented, upgraded, expanded, and collaborated to devise new and improved approaches. This would likely not be happening if not for legalized marijuana Regardless of how one might feel about marijuana legalization, we can all agree that best practices in adolescent prevention, intervention, and diversion programs are in the best interest of youth. Unexpected outcomes are not always negative outcomes. Sometimes they can turn our thinking on its head and transform complacency into action.
Our November 17, newsletter argued that marijuana legalization makes possible “Drug Education That Students Will Believe.” While Rick Steves did not address drug education explicitly, his comments confirmed this critical point – as these excerpts make clear: We need credibility for teachers, cops, and parents when it comes to the dangers of hard drugs. When we get the ‘reefer madness’ out of the system we have credibility. When we take the crime out of marijuana, then we can address the serious problems of hard drugs, and we can do that effectively. This isn’t an issue of soft or hard on drugs. This is an issue of how can we be pragmatic? How can we be smart about a problem that we can’t just wish away? Marijuana is here. People who are opponents talk like, “If you legalize marijuana, it’s going to mess up kid’s brains.” Well, the kids are smoking marijuana. They’re going to smoke after legalization. The question is how can we gain credibility. In Europe, they talk about pragmatic harm reduction. For eight years during the Bush administration, if you proposed pragmatic harm reduction that would not even have been considered because that would have been code for “Let’s legalize it.” But what is wrong with pragmatic harm reduction when it comes to a moral issue? We are suffering from decades and billions of dollars of misinformation from the federal government on the need to make marijuana criminal. When they finally legalized alcohol, there wasn’t a celebration. There was recognition that the laws against alcohol were causing more harm to society than the alcohol itself. We can gain credibility by talking truth to our young people and to me it’s a huge issue. I was a parent of two kids and we had to navigate all those challenges. I want teachers and parents, and cops to have credibility with kids. They will when they speak the truth rather than mouthing government talking points. Let’s regulate instead of criminalizing it. We’re learning that right now. Marijuana use is going down among adolescents, because now we have credibility, just like we’ve had success with tobacco and kids. You can advertise, you can educate, and you can make progress.
On Monday evening, Nov. 27, Rick Steves spoke at a private reception. On Tuesday morning, he held a press conference and then testified before a joint hearing of state legislative committees on marijuana legalization and economic development. Here are excerpts from these events. Transcripts of the complete remarks are available upon request. In Washington State marijuana is legal and the sky is not falling. I’m a friend of our Governor, Jay Inslee, who wanted nothing to do with this. He was elected the same day we legalized marijuana and now he understands what it is. He’s so thankful we are not arresting 10,000 people a year. He so pleased that we’ve taken out much of the black market. And he’s getting to used to $300 million in additional revenue. The black-market industry rivaled apples in my state, and if you know how big apples are in Washington, that’s a big industry. It was empowering and enriching organized crime and gangs, and we dismantled it. We’ve turned it into a highly regulated, highly taxed legal market employing 26,000 people, especially in rural areas where we can use the employment. We’ve been able to redirect precious law enforcement resources away from petty pot issues to serious crime. In 2013, James Cole of the U.S. Justice Department made this memo with very clear points: we’re going let you try this, but if you break our rules, you can expect to be busted by the federal government: keep it away from children, keep the criminals out of the business, keep out leakage from neighboring states, be very strict about safety on the roads, no pot in federal property and so on, and don’t let it be a cover for other illegal drug use. In Washington State, we have been very shipshape about making sure the Cole Memo is satisfied. Consequently, we actually have banking now in our state. About 95% of our money is not cash. EUROPEAN VIEWS OF U.S. I spend a third of my whole life hanging out in Europe. They cannot imagine how in the United States 70,000 people are in jail today for non-violent marijuana crimes. “How can you arrest 700,000 people?” they ask. “You Americans lock up 10 times as many people per capita as we do here in Europe. Either you have inherently more criminal people or there’s something screwy about the laws.” They look at us and they say, “You guys are just crazy about legislating morality.” IMPACT OF LEGALIZATION ON MARIJUANA USE The exciting news today is that we have a track record. There’s never been a correlation with how strict the laws are and how much is consumed. That was our hunch when we started in Washington State. Now we know that because we have the statistics. We’ve been at this for four years in Washington State and in Colorado. The numbers are in. Use does not go up. Adolescent use does not go up. DUI’s don’t go up. Crime does not go up. What goes up is civil liberties and tax revenues. I’ve been at this, as I mentioned, for 15 or 20 years and it’s always difficult to get statistics because people who generate statistics have an agenda. We have a thing called the Healthy Youth Survey that our government does in our state. It interviews 200,000 students between sixth and 12th grades every year on their lifestyle choices and their challenges and drug use and all those kinds of things. Since 2012, teen use has stayed the same in our state. You drive into town and you see the marijuana signs. It seems like it’s less forbidden. Perhaps that makes it less sexy for the kids. Also, remember of that $300 million we’ve generated in tax revenue, a good portion of it is earmarked for education and drug prevention programs. Most of those who oppose legalizing marijuana are assuming use will go up. People who oppose legalizing marijuana act like nobody smokes it now. A lot of people assume a whole reservoir of decent people who would love to ruin their lives smoking pot if only it was legal. But what we’ve learned is that anybody who wants to smoke pot, generally does now, already. IMPACT ON RACE A big issue for me is the racism embedded in our prohibition. When I was doing this in Washington State an individual from law enforcement was assigned to trail me when I gave my talks. We became friends. We went to dinner one night. He said, “I disagree with everything you say except for the civil liberties thing.” Later he asked, “Why are you so passionate about this? Rick, you’re comfortable here in suburban Seattle, you can smoke pot for the rest of your life and never get in trouble.” I said, “That’s exactly it! A rich white guy won’t get arrested. It’s poor kids, it’s black kids.” It is just pathetic – the racism behind this law, and now people are starting to stand up. In the first 57 years of my life I had never been hugged by a big, black, Baptist minister. After we legalized, I’ve been hugged by lots of big, beautiful, Baptist ministers. Now leaders in the black community know how drugs have ravaged their communities. What they’re learning is it’s not the drugs that are so devastating, it’s the fact that it is criminal to use those drugs. The NAACP endorsed our law in Washington. They know that the most costly thing about marijuana is the fact that if you smoke it, you can ruin the rest of your life because you have a record, you can’t get into school, and you can’t get a loan, and you can’t get a job. MARIJUANA AS GATEWAY DRUG People are going to say that marijuana is a gateway drug. Europeans have taught me that the only thing ‘gateway’ about marijuana is when it’s illegal, you got to buy it on the street from some criminal who is not going card you, and who is going to offer you something that’s more addictive and more profitable. IMPACT ON DUI’S DUIs are a very important concern. In Washington state, we were not a pro-pot law, we were a public safety law. That’s why we got the endorsement of law enforcement. We had very, very strict DUI considerations in our law. It was so strict that our main opposition was from the left, not from the right. I don’t know anybody who believes that if somebody is driving intoxicated by anything – pills, marijuana, alcohol – we shouldn’t throw the book at them. But I don’t think there’s any real evidence that shows in any state — medical, legal, or no marijuana — a correlation between those states and safety on the roads. There are all sorts of people looking for an excuse to discredit this legalization movement, whose job is to be in the opposition. They can spin examples and say, statistically, “Look it, there were two more accidents in this county than before, fatalities have doubled.” But if you look at the broad picture, there’s no indication that medical or legal marijuana states show any difference from states that have not taken these steps. IMPACT ON OPIOID CRISIS Portugal and the Netherlands initiated their liberal policies on marijuana in order to deal with a serious opioid problem. After they got rid of their dictators, it was just a free for all. They had a horrible problem with hard drug addicts. They decided to take the marijuana out of the equation and focus on hard drug addiction. Their marijuana use has stayed the same, they do not have any drug tourism, and their hard drug addiction populace has been cut by 50%. If you’ve been to Amsterdam to see that neighborhood, it was a no-go zone when I was a kid traveling in the Netherlands. It was just completely owned by the hard drug dealers. Now, it’s gentrified, there are beautiful restaurants and cafes and there is a coffee shop on the corner. They’ve taken the marijuana off of the streets, they’ve turned it into legitimate businesses and they have targeted their hard drug-addicted population very successfully. IMPACT ON LAW ENFORCEMENT You can learn about our prohibition against marijuana when you look at how we struggled with the prohibition against alcohol back in the ’20’s and ’30’s. Mayor LaGuardia of New York said, “When a society has a law on the books that it does not intend to enforce consistently across the board, the very existence of that law erodes respect for law enforcement in general.” Take away the black market and generate tax revenue, then you can get your police to focus on serious problems instead of running down petty pot smokers and you can save a lot of money in law enforcement on top of the tax revenue. MARIJUANA AS HEALTH NOT A CRIMINAL ISSUE In Europe the word for addicted is “enslaved.” People who are drug addicts are not criminals. They don’t need cops, they don’t need lawyers, they don’t need judges, they need counselors and they need nurses and they need compassion. They need support. When you can take the crime out of the equation, you can see this is a health and education challenge, whether it’s hard drugs or a soft drug use and abuse.
MICHELLE ADDRESS: KEYNOTE ADDRESS TO DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE, ATLANTA, GEORGIA – October 12, 2017 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 …
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