Articles Posted in Drug Policy Reforms

In September of 2016 the Austin American broke a surprising story to those who aren’t in the legal field[1]. The report found that in Texas’s largest populated counties, Dallas, Harris, Travis, Bexar, and Tarrant, over 40% of minor possession of marijuana cases where bring dismissed. The report also found that prosecutors where actively discouraging police arrest through policy or practice.

iStock_000013348762_ExtraSmall-300x199
Specifically, the report found that, since 2011 there has been a large upsurge in the number of dismissals from 9% on average overall in 2011 to 41% in 2016. Prosecutors quoted about this upsurge stated simple reason for the change in policy. “Jurors would look at us like we are crazy,” Travis County prosecutor Dan Hamre told the newspaper. “‘You are spending your time, our time and the court’s time on a small amount of personal marijuana?’ “[2]. The report identified changes in policies, that had lead to the upsurge, and highlighted the irregularity in these numbers across different counties.

Policy Changes, and Legal Changes

rehabilitation rehab for drugs alcohol addiction or sport and accident injury physical or mental therapy
Is Childhood trauma the root of addiction? According to Dr. Gabor Maté, yes. The Canadian physician believes that the origin of addiction can be traced back to a painful experience in childhood. He argues that addicts suffer from hurt and stress that can come from violence, abuse, addiction in the family, neglect, and other discomforting experiences. Dr. Maté’s stance on drug addiction posits that the drugs themselves are not causing the addiction, but that psychological or physiological stresses are. His 2010 book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, highlights his theory that if we only address addiction as a disease, we do not treat addiction at its core. Dr. Mate is one of the proponents of ayahuasca-assisted treatment to help his patients address the root source of addiction.

Ayahuasca – The Hallucinogenic Tea

What is Ayahuasca-assisted treatment? It is a form of psychedelic-assistance which helps patients relive and address trauma they experienced as children. Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic tea made from Amazonian tree bark and has been used by shamans for centuries. Ayahuasca is legal in South America, but only legal in the United States for certain religious groups. The Supreme Court ruled that the União do Vegetal, a religious group with Brazilian origins, can use the brew for its religious services. A limited but thought-provoking number of studies suggest that ayahuasca provides a remedy for addicts.  The Ayahuasca-Assisted Treatment for Addiction was the first observational study in North America. Conducted in British Columbia, Canada, the published results showed that patients, who were treated with ayahuasca for substance abuse, reported a decline in the use of alcohol, tobacco, and cocaine. The patients also gained psychological benefits, feeling more hopeful and empowered. The study’s results suggest that more research should be done on ayahuasca-assisted treatment. Although studies suggest that ayahuasca can be used for drug addiction, PTSD, and depression, its active ingredient, DMT, remains a Schedule I controlled substance in the U.S., and in 2011, the Canadian government ordered Dr. Maté to stop treating his patients with ayahuasca tea.

iStock_000007992706XSmall.jpgA conservative political activist and mother, Jessica Peck, co-founded the Women’s Marijuana Movement (WMM), an organization dedicated to changing the harmful laws of marijuana prohibition. As a primary goal, the organization seeks to inform others that marijuana use is a much safer recreational activity than alcohol consumption. Members of WMM include parents driven in the conviction that marijuana reform will create a safer environment for their children and young professionals that have grown weary with a system that permits, and even encourages, dangerous use of alcohol but criminally punishes the comparatively less harmful usage of marijuana. Women are increasingly moving in favor of marijuana reform, overcoming a historical gender gap on the issue.

Historically, males have favored marijuana reform more so than females have. For example, in 2010, national Gallup poll revealed that 51 percent of males favored marijuana legalization while only 41 percent of females were in favor. Even in Marijuana-friendly states, in the recent past women have shown much less support, as seen by a 2011 poll of Washington State voters where 56 percent of males support legalization, but a significantly smaller 37 percent of females believed in marijuana legalization.

However, much of the gender gap has closed, if not disappeared, regarding marijuana reform support. A 2013 poll shows 48 percent of women nationally now support marijuana legalization, a notable increase from the 41 percent of support in 2010. Women’s support in favor of ending marijuana prohibition was pivotal to the marijuana legalization victories in Colorado and Washington State. In polls leading up to the Colorado vote to legalize, 49 percent of women voiced their support for Amendment 64. Confirming the drastic shift of marijuana views of women, exit polls of the Colorado marijuana vote showed 53 percent of women voters supported the legalization measure. This result was very different from the failed 2006 Colorado vote to legalize, where the majority of women voted in favor of maintaining marijuana prohibition. Joining Colorado’s 2012 marijuana victory, the majority of women voters in Washington State also voted favorably to legalize marijuana.

iStock_000005273638XSmall.jpgIn early August, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new and immediately effective Justice Department policy that will reduce severe mandatory sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who are not associated with drug cartels, gangs or large-scale organizations. Speaking to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, Holder pointed out that though the U.S. is “coldly efficient in jailing criminals,” it “cannot prosecute or incarcerate its way [to becoming safer].”

The new Justice Department policy is part of a comprehensive prison reform package that includes policies to reduce sentences for nonviolent elderly inmates and seek alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals. “Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable,” Holder commented before going on to specifically question excessive imprisonment associated with our nation’s War on Drugs.

Although the U.S. is home to a mere 5% of the world’s population, our nation’s prisons hold almost 25% of the world’s prisoners. Since 1980, the federal prison population has increased by over 800% while the nation’s population has only grown by roughly one-third. Officials attributed most of that increase to mandatory minimum sentences for drugs imposed in the 1980’s at the outset of the so-called “War on Drugs”. For example, under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, a minimum sentence of five years without parole was imposed for possession of five grams of crack cocaine, while the same sentence was mandated for possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine, leading to higher levels of more severe incarceration in poorer communities. With more than 219,000 inmates in the federal prison system, the Justice Department has confirmed that prisons are operating at 40% over capacity. Of course, with the increase in mandatory minimum sentences, incarceration costs have skyrocketed, reaching over $80 billion in 2010. With almost half of federal inmates incarcerated for drug-related crimes, it is clear that our current drug policies are only adding unnecessary strain and expense to our taxpayers and justice system. Attorney General Holder was enthusiastic that the new Justice Department policies “will ultimately save our country billions of dollars.”