Drug Policy Reform—The Next Major Civil Rights Issue

Mass incarceration and conflicts among police and citizens are fueled largely by the “War on Drugs,” which has simultaneously contributed to poverty and devastated families and poor and minority communities for decades. Four states and the District of Columbia have voted to legalize marijuana since 2012, and a bill or ballot initiative proposing marijuana reform is coming soon to a state near you. The JCPA is voting on a policy that would bring the Jewish community voice to the table for this important national discussion.

Prohibition of marijuana has been a very costly policy, to the tune of $20 billion a year (not to mention foregone tax revenues), and a growing percentage—now a majority—of Americans favor complete legalization. More than two-thirds believe people caught with marijuana should be only fined or not punished at all. Moral leaders have come forward from all political perspectives to support rolling back prohibition. If you think arrests and prosecutions for marijuana are few or just lead to a “slap on the wrist,” think again. In 2013, there were 693,482 marijuana arrests in the United States, about half of all drug arrests, which, in turn, are about half of all arrests. Of those marijuana arrests, nearly 88% were for simple possession. Marijuana possession arrests outpace the number of arrests for all violent crimes combined. That is a huge chunk of our criminal justice system. And the penalties are real. In more than two-thirds of states, possession can lead to jail time—otherwise there is almost always a fine and many are placed into community supervision. A conviction can be a bar to voting, getting a job, getting housing, student loans, or a professional license, and can even prevent adoption. An arrest alone usually includes jail time awaiting arraignment and other indignities, and creates a permanent, searchable public record that can cause significant consequences. What’s more, simple possession of marijuana was the fourth-largest cause of deportation in 2013.

Learn more about the harmful effects of criminalization of drug use, the racially disproportionate impacts on our communities, and the fast-changing landscape of policy reform in this area.

We will hear from two top experts in the field: Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance; and Jasmine L. Tyler, senior policy analyst for global health and drug policy at the Open Society Foundations.

Background Reading

The Bail Trap by Nick Pinto, New York Times

A Drug Policy That Denies Repentance by Hanna Liebman Dershowitz, The Forward

Harms of Marijuana Fact Sheet – Drug Policy Alliance

Ten Facts About Marijuana – Drug Policy Alliance