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Top 8 Drug Stories of 2010: Momentum Is Building to End the Failed Drug War

The debate around failed marijuana prohibition and the larger drug war arrived in a big way in 2010. Here are some of the most significant stories of the year.
 
 
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It's been a difficult year for progressives, and most other Americans as well. While I feel discouraged about many things happening in our country and around the world, and have lost lots of my "Yes We Can" glow from only two years ago, the issue that is closest to my heart -- ending the war on people who use drugs -- continues to bring me hope and cautious optimism.

The debate around failed marijuana prohibition and the larger drug war arrived in a big way in 2010. Below are some of the most significant stories from 2010 and the reasons why I'm encouraged that we can start finding an exit strategy from America's longest running war.

1) California's Vote on Legalizing Marijuana Inspires Worldwide Debate

Proposition 19, the initiative to control and tax marijuana in California, was arguably the highest profile voter initiative in the nation. It generated thousands of stories in the United States and around the world about the pros and cons of marijuana prohibition. Millions of people for the first time had serious conversations about whether we should continue to arrest and incarcerate people for marijuana or if we should take it out of the illicit market and regulate it. In the end, Prop. 19 received more than 46% of the vote, more votes that GOP Governor Candidate Meg Whitman. The take-away from California is not will marijuana ever be legal, but when.

2) President Obama Signed Historic Legislation Reducing Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

In August, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, reforming the draconian disparity between crack and powder cocaine prison sentences. Before the change, a person with just five grams of crack received a mandatory sentence of five years in prison. That same person would have to possess 500 grams of powder cocaine to earn the same punishment. This discrepancy, known as the 100-to-1 ratio, was enacted in the late 1980s and was based on myths about crack cocaine being more dangerous than powder cocaine. Unfortunately, the Democrats made serious comprises to get Republicans to support the Fair Sentencing Act. The original bill that would have completely eliminated the 100-to-1 disparity, but insteadthe compromise reduced the disparity to 18:1. Most troubling was that that the reform was not applied retroactively - which means that none of the tens of thousand of people unfairly languishing in cages will find any relief from the new law. That said, the reform of these laws is the first repeal of a mandatory minimum drug sentence since the 1970s.

3) Media Coverage is Fair, Balanced and Thoughtful

For the first time, the media consistently covered the marijuana debate seriously and without the jokes and giggle factor that accompanied stories in the past. For the first time they started including anti-prohibition voices that pointed out that much of the violence in the drug trade is due to prohibition and not the drug itself. There were cover stories in a range of outlets and magazines, including Time Magazine, the Washington Post Magazine, and the Nation. The Associated Press deserves a Pulitzer Prize for its "Impact Series" on the Drug War. Back in May, AP dropped a bombshell on America's longest war and the headline said it all: The US Drug War Has Met None of its Goals. The extensive piece reviewed the last 40 years, starting with President Nixon's official launch of the War on Drugs all the way to President Obama's annual strategy released this year. The piece packed a punch from the start: "After 40 years, the United States' War on Drugs has cost $1 trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence more brutal and widespread."