Opportunities for Drug Reform in the Obama Era


While President-elect Obama is not going to make ending the drug war his #1 priority, he has said that America should start treating drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue. He supports repealing the federal syringe ban and ending the DEA's raids on medical marijuana patients. He is also co-sponsor of Senator Biden's bill to eliminate the 100-to-1 crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity.

Moreover, many in leadership positions in Congress support drug policy reform, ranging from Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Representative Dana Rohrabacher.

In the months ahead, President-elect Obama will choose a new Drug Czar for our nation, and members of Congress will put together legislation to overhaul his agency. We have an opportunity to re-shape drug policy for a generation.

My enthusiasm is tempered, though, by the defeat of Proposition 5 in California. We knew from early polling that a substantial majority of Californians favored this major reform of the state's prisons and drug sentencing policies. But a sordid coalition of the prison guards' union, the beer distributors' association, gambling interests, fanatical anti-drug groups and craven politicians raised $3.5 million in the last few weeks of the campaign to run deceitful TV ads across the state. Ultimately we could not compete with their lies and scare tactics.

But I know from experience that there's opportunity to be found in every defeat. We built new coalitions and found new allies, injected new perspectives into the public debate, and increased our stature and ability to shape future policies. We also won respect throughout the state and the nation for taking on the Goliath of the prison-industrial complex.

I feel energized like never before, and so do my colleagues at the Drug Policy Alliance and our many allies in the growing movement to end the drug war. I hope you do, too.

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