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Take That, Drug Warriors! 9 Amazing Signs We're Heading Towards Sane Drug Policy

This year was not a good one for drug warriors.

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8. Politicians Saying No to Drug War... And Winning!

While the vast majority of Americans know the drug war has failed, the issue has been a “third rail” issue among elected officials who have been terrified of being labeled soft on crime. This started changing in 2012 with politicans speaking out against the drug war and winning at the ballot box. Marijuana legalization supporter Beto O'Rourke defeated eight-term Congressman Sylvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary for Texas's 16th congressional district. Congressman Reyes was an ardent supporter of the drug war and tried to use Beto O’Rourke’s positions as a major issue in campaign.  

Also this year, the Democratic primary for attorney general in Oregon featured a similar dynamic. Ellen Rosenblum won a surprising victory over favorite Dwight Holton, in a race in which medical marijuana became a major issue. Rosenblum is supportive of patients’ right to safe and legal access to medical marijuana, while her opponent, former Interim U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton, is sharply critical of the program. Although Holton was heavily favored early in the race, he was targeted for defeat by supporters of medical marijuana after actively trying to undermine responsible state regulation.

Building on this trend, we saw New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has known presidential aspirations, along with Chicago mayor (and former White House chief of staff) Rahm Emmanuel, come out in support of marijuana decriminalization. Cuomo and Emmanuel are part of the Democratic establishment with their fingers to the wind. Their support of marijuana decriminalization shows that politicians are realizing that support for reforming drug laws is a good political move.

9. Despite Progress, Drug War Grinds On as Viciously as Ever

For all of the progress in 2012, the war on drugs is as vicious as ever. The worst drug war policies remain entrenched, as more than three-quarters of a million people are arrested for marijuana possession every year, and more than half a million people are still behind bars today for nothing more than a drug law violation. The bloodbath in Mexico has taken 60,000 lives in the last six years and shows no signs of slowing down. And overdose fatalities have doubled in the last decade.

We are at a paradoxical moment in our country. We are clearly moving in the right direction, toward a more rational drug policy based on science, compassion, health and human rights. But we need to step up our efforts, grow our numbers, and continue to win hearts and minds because the casualties from the war continue to mount every day. If the people lead, the leaders will follow.

Tony Newman is communications director for the Drug Policy Alliance.
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