STORIES

Inching Towards Reparations for the Drug War

By Charlie Tetiyevsky on April 18, 2017

It has become nearly impossible to make accurate predictions about the drug war in a political climate where the stakes and overarching circumstances shift daily. We know in which direction we are being led but not how quickly, and the uncertainty is unnerving. The worst possibilities are dangled in front of us in the form of grandiose speeches and the careers of cabinet members, and understandably the worst-case, and now most likely, scenario—an increased War on Drugs—has those in the cannabis industry in particular acutely aware that their efforts might be sidelined.

More upsetting still is the fact that a good deal of the country on an organizational, city- and state-wide level has been moving towards first-step “reparations” for the War on Drugs, including decriminalization or legalization of cannabis, carceral clemency for cannabis crimes and the lowering of disproportionately harsh sentences (including felonies) for things like possession and nonviolent offenses. There is understandable anxiety afloat about reverting to a failed, expensive and socially harmful system of prohibition, but even in these times, it is important to acknowledge how we got here and that we can, with significant local effort, make moves to push past the federal government’s roadblocks.

How We Got Here

During a 1971 press conference, President Richard Nixon announced the establishment of an early version of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) known as the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention (SAODAP). The speech was a declaration of war:

“America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive. I’ve asked the congress to provide the legislative authority and the funds to fuel […] a worldwide offensive dealing with the problems of sources of supply[.] It will be government-wide, pulling together the nine different fragmented areas within the government in which this problem is now being handled. 

[…] In order to defeat this enemy which is causing such great concern, and correctly so, to so many American families, money will be provided to the extent that it is necessary and to the extent that it is useful. And finally, for this program to be effective, it is necessary that it be conducted on a basis in which the American people all join in it. That’s why the [congressional] meeting was bipartisan […] because we needed the support of the congress but [also] because we needed the leadership of members of the congress in this field. Fundamentally it is essential for the American people to be alerted of this danger, to recognize that it is a danger that will not pass with the passing of the war in Vietnam, which has brought to our attention the fact that a number of young Americans have become addicts as they serve abroad.”

Ronald Reagan’s harsh words in his 1982 “Remarks Announcing Federal Initiatives Against Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime” used a lens that will be familiar to followers of modern politics, speaking openly about “perception” as the foundation for policy: 

“The perception [among citizens] is growing that the crime problem stems from the emergence of a new privileged class in America, a class of repeat offenders and career criminals who think they have a right to victimize their fellow citizens with virtual impunity [and are] openly contemptuous of our way of justice.” 

Reagan stressed that “this common perception [about crime] has a strong basis in fact” and blamed “misplaced government priorities and a misguided social philosophy” on drug trafficking’s existence. He ironically derided the lack of effect that “material environment” had on the human experience, essentially dismissing systemic poverty (and, unsurprisingly considering the war and prohibition’s initial intentions, racism), scoffing at the idea that “by changing this environment through expensive social programs, […] government [could] permanently change man and usher in an era of prosperity and virtue.” It’s this tone—Hobbesian reductivism of humanity to some predetermined and broadly identified “nature”—and an attack on the social programs put in place in the early 20th century (which to this day continue to be a target) that set the tone for contemporary neo-conservative language.

Even the Clintons built on Reagan’s logic and rhetoric, extending the idea of “a hardened criminal class” into Hillary’s reference in 1994 to “superpredators” and Bill’s 2016 defense of it. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 set up a number of sweeping punitive measures that we are still in the process of breaking down, including mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes rules, harsher penalties for drug trafficking or violent crimes by gang members, and the authorization to try those 13 and older who are accused of violent crimes as adults. 

More so even than Nixon’s initial speech on drugs, Reagan and Clinton’s words emphasized “individual wrongdoing” and personal responsibility while definitively denying “the [effect] of poor socioeconomic conditions or an underprivileged background” on someone’s actions, intentions or needs.

Certainly Donald Trump’s discussion of the matter has also missed even the most basic nuances of the problem. Reagan, to his credit, at least bothered to give lip service to the participation of “the corrupt policeman [and] public official” alongside “the street criminal [and] the drug pusher” in what he saw as a cycle of drugs. Clearly, stated intention did not translate to action on institutional corruption or its partner, systemic racism, but Trump’s words haven’t evolved at all from Reagan’s—in this sense or with reflection upon the many studies that have been done suggesting the fundamentally counterproductive nature of our War on Drugs.

Indeed, rather than acknowledge the issues of endowing local police forces with additional powers and the ever-present role of corruption at even the most basic and local levels of the executive branch, Trump’s only action on the drug war has been to give such organizations carte blanche. Things like civil asset forfeiture, federal funding incentives based on the number of arrests, and the fact that police are provided with increased weaponry in response to such “threats” all fuel a machine that, especially at the local level, has no reason to step on the brakes.

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s February 8th speech to the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA, a group of Chiefs and Sheriffs from the largest cities in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.) took none of this into consideration:

“It’s time to stop the drugs from pouring into our country and, by the way, we will do that […] It’s time to dismantle the gangs terrorizing our citizens [...] You [police chiefs] have asked for the resources, tools, and support you need to get the job done. We will do whatever we can to help you meet those demands. That includes a zero-tolerance policy for acts of violence against law enforcement. We all see what happens. We all see what happens and what’s been happening to you, it’s not fair. 

I asked a group [of law enforcement officials], “What impact do drugs have in terms of apercentage on crime?” [They] said 75-80%. That’s pretty sad. […] We’re gonna take [the] fight to the drug cartels and work to liberate our communities from their terrible grip of violence. You have the power and knowledge to tell General Kelly—now Secretary Kelly—who the illegal immigrant gang members are—now you have that power, because you know them, you’re there, you’re local. You know the illegals, you know them by their first names, you know them by their nicknames. You have that power. The federal government can never be that precise. […] You know the bad ones, you know the good ones. I want you to turn in the bad ones[.] 

You have to call up the federal government, Homeland Security, because so much of the problems, you look at Chicago and you look at the other places, so many of the problems are caused by gang members, many of whom are not even legally in our country. And we will work with you on the front lines to keep America safe from terrorism […] a tremendous threat far greater than people in our country understand. Believe me. I’ve learned a lot in the past two weeks, and terrorism is a far greater threat than the people of our country understand. […] We’re gonna win. We’re gonna take care of it, folks.”

Trump’s plan for his round of the War on Drugs is one of attrition, as though an arms race could finally get us the annihilative sort of “win” he thinks we crave as desperately as he does. 

One Step Forward

Things had been relatively looking up for a while. Over the course of his two terms, President Barack Obama, who received 36,544 requests for clemency (more than any other president by nearly a factor of three) from prisoners, granted more than 1,927 individuals pardons or sentence commutations—more than any other president, even though it was only 5 percent of the total requests. The reason for a spike in requests during Obama’s tenure was the Department of Justice’s 2014 Clemency Initiative, which “prioritized [and encouraged] petitions from individuals convicted of drug trafficking offenses over the thousands of petitions involving other crimes for which sentencing law has not changed.” (And even those 2,000 pardons were just a fraction of the nearly 100,000 people in federal prisons simply for drug crimes.)

On a local level, things had been moving relatively forward as well. In May of 2016, the Oakland City Council unanimously passed a very basic “equity system” giving individuals recently convicted for marijuana and residents of a section of Oakland priority to register for marijuana business licenses. 

Leafly covered Oakland’s program, quoting Amanda Reima, Marijuana Law and Policy Manager for the non-profit organization Drug Policy Alliance, in pointing out qualities of the law that she thought would contribute positively to diversifying the market:

“In any other industry, those with the capital and privilege to begin with are often the ones who succeed, save for the folks who are plucked out of their communities for being unique or special in some way. In America, involvement with the criminal justice system is typically a barrier to success too high for most[.] The American public knows this, and regards this with disdain, but is complacent. We have a chance […] to flip the script, not only by providing opportunities specifically to those most often denied them, but [also] by showing the world that people are not their pasts.”

But Reima’s praise actually points out the fundamental flaws of relying entirely on market-focused approaches to reparations. Certainly allowing people who have been at the mercy of the legal system in line to register their businesses is something of an advancement on our current practices, but at the same time it’s a very minute bump in a market that, as even Reima says, has “been designed to allow certain people to flourish and others to perish.” 

And though federal and local moves like this are sometimes casually referred to as “reparations” for the drug war, realistic mechanisms for true reparations are only just beginning to gain speed in the mainstream. They don’t look like a bump on the waitlist in the racially unbalanced marketplace because exclusion is just a symptom of problems endemic to the $7.1 billion marijuana industry (and American capitalism at large). Simply moving people to the front of the line to run a state-accepted operation is not only against the spirit of truly legalizing the plant (we don’t regulate home brewing, for instance), it also doesn’t account for disparities in capital and training that might make establishing a business more difficult even for those allowed to the front of the line.

A year ago Buzzfeed reported on the racial breakdown of those in the legal marijuana industry, finding in their survey of dispensary owners, vendors and industry insiders that “fewer than three dozen of the 3,200 to 3,600 storefront marijuana dispensaries in the United States are owned by black people—about 1%.” The article also emphasizes a fact well known but largely unspoken of within the industry except at hiring points: that having a criminal conviction, even one for marijuana possession, is a disqualifying factor in an industry that is only legal on the state level and wants to maintain the appearance of “untainted” legitimacy.

Certainly programs like Oakland’s eliminate a major roadblock for previously incarcerated people trying to start their own businesses, something Allison Keyes mentions as a defining issue for Black people entering onto the market in her piece for The Root, “Why Black People Are Being Left Out of the Weed Boom.” But in addition to restrictive waitlists, stringent rules for business licensing mandate providing a detailed business plan (which requires its own specialized knowledge), license application and biannual registration fees are staggeringly high. 

Initial license costs in Maryland to open a dispensary, as Keyes points out, are a $1,000 application fee with a $80,000 biennial fee, and just to be a grower there is a $2,000 charge to apply with a $250,000 biennial fee. In New Jersey, a state just loosening its strict end-of-life MMJ laws, the cost to open a store is $20,000. In New York, where operating costs “will be somewhere between $15 million and $30 million for each of the five companies granted operating licenses in the first year,” the registration fee alone runs $200,000. Capital requirements are also often stipulated, with Nevada requiring that an applicant have $250,000 in liquid assets as a prerequisite. Such requirements are made all the more difficult for Black applicants because of racial inequalities in lending.

Those in the industry involved in community outreach are additionally penalized because every contribution to those in need costs growers and dispensaries—like Zulu, a grower profiled by Keyes—money out of their own pockets. Maryland is following a similar program to Oakland’s wherein the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission gave entry-level “license preapprovals to 15 growers and 15 processors. [However,] none of the companies [are] led by African Americans.” Zulu is one of the community-minded individuals who wants to work to benefit the community, namely senior citizens, and comments that “small guys were definitely not welcome to this game. […] We know how to help [but] the people who got licenses were ex-cops and ex-political officials.” The Root cites a report from the Washington Post that found “that of the 144 companies that applied for the 15 growing licenses in Maryland, 26 had political ties, at least 30 had law enforcement ties and 47 had ties to out-of-state corporations."

Keyes also quotes Adam Bierman, CEO of California-based management company MedMen, who says the fact that “the average [New York] applicant […] probably spent somewhere around $5 million for that application process [sounds] reasonable.” Naturally, MedMen has a “capital arm” of $100 million. “States,” he explains, “don’t want a free-market environment.”

Neither do many in the industry who want to keep it exclusive. These individuals treat the industry like “the pharmaceutical, grocery or casino industries,” bastions of crony capitalism that benefit wealthy investors. They often argue that a large infrastructure is required for growing, but we all (home growers especially) know that a cannabis enterprise can be started with relatively little space and capital. Those running underground grows know this, even if people who just jumped into the game either don’t—or pretend not to so as to discourage the old cottage industrialists from moving in on “their” turf. The preposterous and presumptuous idea that people either individually or in a collective couldn’t “lock up real estate that would allow you to build a grow facility [or] put together a cannabis-security team” ignores the literally decades-old flourishing and functional black market that preceded any of the more recent capitalistic endeavors. 

Regarding diversity in the marketplace, Bierman argues, “Morally, you can say we should make sure [people of color] should get the upside […] but on the flip side, these states have a huge undertaking and have to do what’s best for the state, colorblind.”

Two Steps Back

Restrictions on participation in the industry are very much linked at every level to incarceration and systemic racism. Wanda James, “longtime African-American marijuana activist and entrepreneur,” is also quoted in Keyes’ piece in The Root illuminating what many white growers refuse to acknowledge: “Why do white men in Colorado […] get to sell a billion dollars’ worth of weed, yet a black kid in Texas selling a $24 bag can still go to jail for a felony for a year? Your zip code determines whether you are a felon or a millionaire.” James brought up the matter of Colorado, where “‘if you had a drug felony, you couldn’t be in on the industry, but if you were a rapist, you could.’ [She explains,] ‘It’s stuff like that that makes no sense so it becomes dog whistle and racist because we have been targeted for the last 80 years and given ridiculous sentences.’”

And just because state laws are loosening around marijuana use and starting to codify growing and dispensing doesn’t mean that the industry has taken steps to become inclusive. Even Los Angeles has plans to ramp up city oversight of the industry, with Measure M having passed overwhelmingly by local voters—many of whom, it must be assumed, didn’t read the bill or else didn’t realize that, unlike the opposing bill, it was written by the Mayor and Chief of Police together. Practically this means that the language of the measure imposes (among other things like taxes for research) strict penalties and longer sentences for “unregistered” grows—which means, naturally, a ramped-up targeting of minorities that we were starting to stray from. 

It very recently emerged that privately owned ICE detention centers, the sort where people have to wait for years before going to trial, are alleged to have been violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) (which includes protection for those “induced to perform labor […] through force, fraud, or coercion”) by making detainees “work without pay” or for a dollar a day and threatening “those who refuse to do so […] with solitary confinement.” But labor under the threat of solitary confinement exists outside of these detention centers, forced upon people in public and private prisons alike. 

The practice of using incarcerated individuals for labor in the U.S. unsurprisingly(especially considering the lasting racial disparity in modern prisoner numbers) found its origins in slavery. Black slaves freed by the Thirteenth Amendment became ensnared in sharecropping schemes and were all too often accused of some sort of unsubstantiated petty crime or charged with violating sharecropping agreements, put in jail, and then sent to work mining, building railroads or picking cotton in a practice called “convict leasing.” Mississippi had a “prison farm” (a plantation, essentially, but complete with a gas chamber for executions) that housed Black men and leased convicts from after the Civil War until 1942. Men there worked 10 hours a day, six days a week, living in one-story buildings so unpleasant they were referred to as “cages.” While the workers made nothing, the state received a fee for leasing out the prisoners. The Atlantic explains that “convict leasing was cheaper than slavery, since farm owners and companies did not have to worry at all about the health of their workers.”

Famously, the Thirteenth Amendment allows slavery and involuntary servitude “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”—by design a legislative gap meant to enable Jim Crow laws, and to this day a bleeding gash that has never been closed and remains in play even when people have not necessarily been convicted, as in ICE centers.

In Louisiana’s infamous Angola Prison, “Black bodies [still] pepper the landscape, hunched over as they work the fields [while] officers on horseback, armed, oversee the workers.” Like those before them, these people are not afforded anything resembling minimum wage because it has been ruled, “in the cases where incarcerated workers have sued their prison-employers” over wages and labor standards, “that the relationship between the penitentiary and the inmate worker is not primarily economic [and thus] the worker is not protected” or considered an employee. 

Though in certain cases previous convictions can be an understandable concern for employers on the outside, the reality is that because arrests (and therefore felony and other convictions) and wrongful convictions (as seen through exoneration numbers) disproportionately affect Black people, they are the group at the highest disadvantage for advancement within an industry with such strict standards (and, when it comes to felonies and mandated disclosure, any industry).

The ACLU found in a 2013 report that “on average, a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates.” These racial disparities exist across the country in all communities of various sizes, densities and population breakdowns: “In over 96% of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2% of the residents are Black, Blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession.”

In addition to this, cannabis—despite having been legalized medically and recreationally in states and decriminalized in others—still makes up the bulk of drug arrests in this country. “Marijuana arrests,” the ACLU reports, “increased between 2001 and 2010 and [in 2013] account[ed] for over half (52%) of all drug arrests in the United States,” 46% of which are for possession (which accounts for 88% of the 8 million marijuana arrests in those nine years). In 2010, that meant there was one cannabis arrest every 37 seconds, with combined state spending costing taxpayers more than $3.6 billion on enforcing this one matter alone. 

The greatest cost, of course, is human. The trauma of going to prison and the ensuing complications of returning to unincarcerated society are what the ACLU points out where Amanda Reima and those championing the Oakland equity system don’t: “Arrests and convictions for possessing marijuana can negatively impact public housing and student financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, child custody determinations, and immigration status. The price paid by those arrested and convicted […] can be significant and linger for […] a lifetime.” There is certainly a cruel irony that previously incarcerated individuals with high levels of trauma—and perhaps the skill to make the industry flourish—are being turned away from the very business making the medicine meant to abate such conditions. Those within marginalized communities are being Othered instead of welcomed into an industry that, in large part, operates in order to help people feel better—and was arguably built on dangerous labor performed by people of color.

Ballooning incarceration of Americans and the wildfire spread of private prisons are part of one very serious issue with returning to the War on Drugs. The other takes paying attention to the underlying intentions of the administrations that have perpetuated it, and how this war has been leveraged to serve, rhetorically, the goals of each respective presidency. 

For Nixon the war was explained as an attempt to target organized crime (though arguably this itself was a stand-in for an attack on Black people and politically active youth of the left); George H. W. Bush turned his focus to “drug users” and therefore lower-income communities and people of color; Reagan honed in on reasons to cut the entitlement programs that those communities need; Clinton attempted to use anti-Blackness to gain white swing votes; George W. Bush claimed that drugs perpetuated terrorism; Obama capitulated to conservatives and the right-leaning moderate status quo in the government; and, most recently, Trump’s language announced clearly that his chapter of the War on Drugs has at its core a plan to target undocumented immigrants.

Official ICE policy released in a 2014 memo said that possession cases are not a priority for deportation. “Significant misdemeanor[s]” like distribution or trafficking are second-level priorities after first-level ones like felonies, street gang participation, national security threats or apprehensions at border crossings. Also included in level one are “aggravated felonies,” a confusing and by all accounts broad label assigned to drug sales or trafficking cases in certain conditions under violation of state or federal felony laws (standards which are themselves established on the basis of the quantity of a controlled substance that someone is possessing—Reagan’s administration, for instance, initiated harsher penalties for smaller amounts of cocaine or drugs containing it. And even in states where cannabis is completely legal, like Washington, it’s a felony to possess more than 1.41 ounces of weed on your person).

Individuals convicted of cannabis possession may not be an “enforcement priority,” but the penalty for getting rounded up for such crimes—which, mind you, is not “prohibit[ed] or discourage[d]” by the 2014 ICE memo—is shockingly severe. Federal law mandates that “anyone convicted of a controlled-substance offense may be subject to ‘mandatory detention,’ [and] because of the severe backlog in immigration courts, those convicted of drug crimes might spend months or years in immigration detention for crimes that may be punished with far shorter sentences (if any) in jail.” (This is also not unheard of in the non-immigration justice system: The Bronx’s courts, backed up by a lack of judges, public defenders and general funds, is simply one example of a national problem. The system is so backlogged that people can sit pre-trial [that is, not even convicted] in a jail for more than five years—earning the process the nickname “the Bronx Gulag.”)

And despite not being a priority, according to the Human Rights Watch as reported the Marshall Project, between 2007 and 2012 “34,337 people whose most serious conviction was marijuana possession were deported” and another “18,151 were deported with a conviction for selling marijuana.” Deporting counter to the suggestions of the ICE memo has continued to be the case, naturally, into the Trump administration, suggesting that matters can only worsen. 

The Road Ahead

In 2000, Portugal took a radical step and decriminalized drugs. From cannabis to cocaine, ecstasy to meth, no discovery of drugs less than a 10-day supply leads to an arrest in Portugal. Those who don’t qualify for arrest are sent to “dissuasion panels” that, Vice News explains, feature a number of experts (social and psychological as well as legal ones) and usually result in a case dismissal or, after multiple infractions, a prescription for treatment “ranging from motivational counseling to opiate substitution therapy.” In addition to lowering incarceration rates and the frequency of altercations between police and the public, “in a society where drugs are less stigmatized problem users are more likely to seek out care,” which lowers costs within the public healthcare system, the incidence of blood-borne infections like HIV and hepatitis, and overdose deaths. Portugal’s total number of OD deaths has dropped since decriminalization was passed—from 80 in 2000 to 16 in 2012—and remained steady in the years since at 3 deaths per million people between the ages of 17 and 64 (compared to a 17.3 average across the EU). 

U.S. deaths from opioid overdoses in 2015 alone numbered more than 33,000, having more than quadrupled since 1999—essentially the same timeframe in which Portugal was able to eliminate its drug deaths almost entirely. While Portugal’s move has been to rehabilitate, America’s has been to incarcerate.

Any number of statisticians and social scientists—in addition to organizations including the United Nations—point out that America’s path hasn’t worked. A radical shift is necessary if we are to end a system that unfairly targets and then profits off of Black people and non-Black people of color. Great damage has been done to entire families, perpetuating and echoing the horror of American slavery into the modern age.

When it comes to providing drug war reparations directly to individuals, equity programs that attempt to rebalance an inherently broken system are not enough. Righting what most of us now acknowledge as the wrongs of the War on Drugs requires serious discussions that center on those affected by the policies and focus on the programs that they know and have seen would help them most. It means clemency, the reduction of harsh sentences and perhaps the provision of a basic income to newly released prisoners as they become re-integrated into society. It requires not only that those previously incarcerated for cannabis be let into line to get marijuana licenses, but that they also be provided business counseling, loan access and a significant waiver on fees. An equal playing field is not necessarily an equitable one, and certainly not in the case of the high-barrier-to-entry marketplace.

Despite the current political climate, there are still organizations doggedly moving forward in paving the way for truer reparations. The Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) released model state-level marijuana legislation earlier this year stating “that it is not contrary to the public interest” for there to be public and private dealings with marijuana and “that the arrest and prosecution of persons for minor cannabis-related offenses has had an adverse disparate and discriminatory effect on persons and communities of color.” The legislation mentions that stigmatization of the “civil and criminal consequences” of cannabis involvement as well as the “personal and medical” use of marijuana “is harmful to the public welfare by preventing access to medical treatments and to open and constructive education and dialogue about drug use.”

The bill has sweeping suggestions on the reform of civil and criminal penalties for involvement at any level of the industry from growing, to testing, to use—contrary to what much police-introduced cannabis legislation like Los Angeles’ Measure M pushes for. The MCBA suggests instead reducing any felony charges for possession to misdemeanors and only charging unregistered growers with a felony on the second instance of being caught growing 20 or more mature plants at once.

The model also suggests full sentence commutation for those serving in prison for cannabis offenses, the zeroing out of parole, community service, or fines for those arrested but not given prison sentences for cannabis, and automatic record expungement for cannabis offenses after two years.

In addition to housing protections the MCBA’s suggested, the bill also has a section establishing employment practices: “No employer may establish any policy or practice that prohibits any cannabis-related activity made lawful[,] require a job applicant to disclose arrests or convictions for cannabis-related offenses on an initial job application[, or] refuse to hire a qualified employee on the basis of any commercial cannabis-related activity made lawful under this Act.” These steps ease the burden, within and outside the industry, of finding employment after a cannabis conviction, while a separate section deals with what Oakland’s legislation did, ensuring “that diverse groups are afforded equal opportunity [and their participation promoted] in all licensing and permitting processes.” This includes active outreach by the State Office for Economic Development as well as “identify[ing] diverse groups who may benefit from participation in cannabis-related businesses [while also] providing education and training opportunities to persons and communities disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition.”

Taxes run much higher under the MCBA’s suggested state-level legislation than they do in most city-level bills like Measure M, but there is a detailed distribution plan for the money including funding affordable housing and environmental sustainability programs—arguably a better choice than continuing to funnel marijuana money into policing, for instance. 

Bills like the MCBA’s are at least a start on the legislative arm of what is clearly a much larger, and more ambitious, move towards true reparations for the War on Drugs—and it would certainly get us closer to admitting the reality of the scorched landscape that prohibition has brought us. Legislation will not and cannot solve everything, but practical matters like demilitarizing police and ending deadly drug raids can at least be achieved as prerequisites for severing the connection between institutional funding and drug arrests—and therefore reducing incentives for local police to continue the war at the president’s behest.

As for the rest of reparations, dealing with the social element of the War on Drugs and ensuring equity for those who have been so greatly wronged by it? Nixon was right about one thing: That in order to truly “win” this war, all Americans, at every level, must join in—but now with the goal to end it. Without active work to care for our citizens instead of punishing them, the social circumstances that most affect addiction cannot be resolved and those whose lives have been gutted by the war will never find justice. It will take us all to move the boulder that our country has set in the path of so many people, but I trust that with significant and focused effort that centers on the affected communities, we can do it.

Photo credits: Flickr (main), The Advocates for Self-Government and Twitter.

 

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