Author: avinashtharoor

United States continues executions amid controversy

Last night, the US executed two convicted murderers – Marcus Wellons and John Winfield – within twenty minutes of each other, and a third – John Henry – is due to be killed tonight. Capital punishment is not unusual in the United States – a country that executed 39 of its citizens in 2013. However, these three cases have been controversial, as the last few months have seen several disastrous implementations of the primary execution method – lethal injections – in the US.


In January, after being injected, convicted killer Michael Wilson uttered his last words: “I feel my whole body burning”. Several executions later, in April, the state of Oklahoma killed Clayton Lockett – but not before he writhed and convulsed for over 40 minutes after being administered a deadly cocktail of drugs. One reason for these recent debacles is that the European Union, which is staunchly against the death penalty, now refuses to provide the drugs for executions. This is causing US states to experiment with different combinations of chemicals – something that the UK charity Reprieve described as tantamount to “using humans as guinea pigs”. Prior to Wellons’ death, his lawyers appealed against his sentence – arguing that it was a ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ – as the state refused to disclose the source of the chemicals being used to kill him. However, his appeal was denied; after the lethal injection was administered, Wellons took almost 25 minutes to die in the execution chamber.


Further controversies have arisen regarding US capital punishment in recent years, including the relevance of offenders’ and victims’ race in determining the punishment, as well as the discovery that many people who were executed were wrongly convicted by biased juries or prosecutors. Data from the US-based Death Penalty Information Centre shows that 61% of the ‘capital convicts’ to have their convictions overturned, and be found innocent, were ethnic minorities. Wellons and Winfield, who were executed last night, and Henry – who is due to be killed tonight, are all Black – as were the two aforementioned offenders who endured painful deaths earlier this year at the hands of their state. It is worth noting that capital punishment is most prevalent in states with histories of racism; Texas executes the largest number of prisoners per year, while Oklahoma – the home of Black Wall Street before it was devastated by white American terrorism – has the highest per capita rate of executions.


Proponents of capital punishment in the United States often argue that it is an effective deterrent for homicide; that if the state promotes killing as a method of justice, it will somehow discourage citizens from killing. Unsurprisingly, a 2012 report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime shows that the US murder rate is far higher than those of developed countries which have outlawed capital punishment. The rate of intentional homicide in the US is 4.8 per 100,000 – in stark contrast with rates of 1.6 in Canada and 1.0 in the United Kingdom, where the death penalty has been outlawed. Of course, there are numerous important factors that affect a nation’s rate of murder and violence, but – seemingly – punishing murderers with unpredictable and torturous deaths is not reducing it.


Paul Flowers and the stigmatisation of drug users


Last week, the former chairman of the Co-operative Bank, Paul Flowers, re-emerged in the media spotlight to speak out about the “hellish” few months he has experienced since his resignation and subsequent scandal. Flowers has been personally blamed for major economic failures at the Co-op Bank during his chairmanship, however, the media – particularly the tabloids – seem more concerned about his drug habits. Seemingly, if it is suggested that a prominent individual has used an illegal drug, it is instantly newsworthy, and it indicates that the alleged user is inherently immoral. Flowers’ mishandling of the Co-op Bank relates to his professional abilities, and is of course an important topic for discussion; quite separately, his personal ethics are being publicly brought into question due to his alleged drug use. This is nothing new (just ask Kate Moss or Nigella Lawson) and as long as terms like ‘drug user’ and ‘addict’ remain synonymous with ‘bad person’, it will continue.


If Flowers is found guilty of drug crimes, he will be among the 2.7million people in England and Wales who – according to a Home Office survey – used an illegal drug in 2012. He is no rarity – this statistic means that around 1 in 12 of us is legally considered to be a criminal, worthy of being locked in a cage at the taxpayers’ expense. Fortunately for most of these drug users, their personal choices or addictions probably won’t be gleefully plastered across the front page of the Daily Mail. Unfortunately for them, drug users and addicts continue to be the most common target of prosecution, while those who sell the substances make a fortune.


In the war on drugs, it is the powerful cartels and dominant dealers that prosper, while addicts and users suffer the most. Interestingly, this disparity can be easily seen among British bank bosses, as Paul Flowers’ coverage can be contrasted to that of Stephen Green, the former chairman of HSBC. Green has been personally blamed for allowing the operation of accounts with drug cartels during his chairmanship, despite having been warned that these activities were occurring. Following his ostensibly accidental role in allowing drug cartels to trade and invest billions of pounds, he was appointed as Minister of State for Trade and Investment by the coalition government, and became a life peer in the House of Lords. Essentially, Flowers bought a few hundred pounds of drugs, and is being publicly harangued and humiliated; Green allowed his bank to handle billions of pounds of cartel money, and was rewarded with a role in running the country.


The clear dichotomy between the treatments of these two individuals is indicative of a deeply ingrained stigmatisation of drug users – which is of no help to people who are struggling with addiction. It also demonstrates that – in the eyes of our government – wealth and status are perfectly acceptable excuses for incredibly destructive and illegal business dealings. The establishment is, evidently, keener to expose and punish people with personal and human problems, such as addiction, than high-ranking individuals whose malicious or ignorant choices cause real widespread suffering.


“I am in company with every other human being”, Flowers said, “for having my frailties and some fragility exposed”. By pushing the notion that drug users are inherently bad people, the government and media perpetuate public support for the laws that are routinely ignored by the powerful. The war on drugs is inherently oppressive, but we take this a step further by allowing the rhetoric to permeate society and influence the way that we treat one another.

Banks Launder Billions of Illegal Cartel Money While Snubbing Legal Marijuana Businesses

This article was published by the Huffington Post and Alternet.

In the past few weeks, violence in the western Mexican state of Michoacán has been rapidly escalating. The government’s inability to deal with the powerful cartels has led to citizens taking the law into their own hands — by forming armed vigilante groups. The bloodshed caused by this development has now led to the deployment of Mexican soldiersinto the region, which in turn has caused further civilian deaths.

The failure of both the vigilantes and the army to quell the cartel’s carnage is a direct result of the huge profits that the drug trade generates. Cartel leaders can continue hiring and arming their combatants because it’s worth the expenditure; the illegal drug trade accounts for around 8 percent of all international trade. One of the primary reasons that cartels retain their enormous power is that well-known and popular banks are supporting their finances.

Bank of America, Western Union, and JP Morgan, are among the institutions allegedly involved in the drug trade. Meanwhile, HSBC has admitted its laundering role, and evaded criminal prosecution by paying a fine of almost $2 billion. The lack of imprisonment of any bankers involved is indicative of the hypocritical nature of the drug war; an individual selling a few grams of drugs can face decades in prison, while a group of people that tacitly allow — and profit from — the trade of tons, escape incarceration.

The hypocrisy of the role that banks play in the drug trade is particularly disgraceful when considering the recent system of marijuana regulation that was introduced in Colorado. The state’s legal marijuana business has proven to be highly lucrative, with $5 million made in the first week of 2014. However, at present, marijuana businesses cannot access essential banking services. Despite liberalization of marijuana laws in Colorado and elsewhere, the plant remains illegal at the federal level; this means that banks won’t open accounts for marijuana businesses, so the majority of their transactions are cash-only. The movement of such large amounts of cash can be highly dangerous for business owners, and troublesome for both customers and tax collectors.

Earlier this week, several Colorado legislators made a bipartisan appeal to the federal government, requesting clear guidelines for marijuana businesses’ regulation within the banking sector. Banks have avoided allowing these new companies to open accounts, ironically, for the fear of being penalized, or implicated as launderers. Essentially, the current banking system implicitly tolerates the handling of violent cartels’ illegal assets, but blocks the legal and legitimate business of the Coloradan marijuana industry.

The role that banks have played in the global drug trade has been partly responsible for widespread carnage and countless civilian deaths, particularly in Mexico. Now, as legal marijuana industries begin to emerge, and the war on drugs seems to slowly decelerate, the banking sector has an opportunity to redeem itself in this respect. Banks cannot undo the wrongs of the past, but they can create a fairer future for regulated trade within this expanding and legal new industry, and without supporting lawlessness.Image


Rejecting the EU plan to regulate legal highs is yet another lost battle in the UK’s war on drugs

This article was first published by the Independent.

Earlier this week, the Home Office minister – Norman Baker – announced that the government would be opting out of the regulation and directive targeting ‘legal high’ drugs proposed by the European Commission (EC). Anti-EU sentiment is undoubtedly on the rise in Parliament, so it is no surprise that the government opposes a change that may reduce its authority over national drug laws. However, the implementation of this legislation could have reduced the income of illegal dealers, while simultaneously decreasing the health risks posed to consumers.

Legal highs – synthetic narcotics that are so new that legislation hasn’t banned them yet – would be treated significantly differently if the EC’s proposals had been endorsed. The advised method would allow a multi-tiered system for new drugs – where the most dangerous substances would be banned outright, substances posing a ‘moderate’ risk would be restricted for medical research, and those of a ‘low’ risk could avoid a ban altogether. If this legislation were implemented, it would encourage manufacturers to produce safer drugs to avoid the ban. It would also allow the product to be taxed, and more importantly, appropriately regulated outside the criminal market. Conversely, the government’s current method results in the eventual criminalisation of all legal highs, regardless of the danger posed. This process has played into the hands of manufacturers – who slightly alter the chemical composition and re-release it as a new substance, with little concern for the safety of consumers.

Between 2011 and 2013, around 120 new and legal substances were created – ranging from synthetic cannabis to strong psychedelics – and the government began to systematically criminalise them. During this time period, legal high use in the UK grew, and the number of British deaths resulting from such substances rose by 80 per cent. The drugs weren’t all bad though; following scientific research, the EU declared that around 20 per cent of known legal highs have a “legitimate use”. Norman Baker, however, claims to “strongly dispute” this evidence, and supports the continuation of the government’s failed approach that has made the UK home to the EU’s biggest legal high market.

The European Commission is not the first legislative body to propose a progressive stance toward legal highs. Last year, New Zealand’s parliament passed the Psychoactive Substances Act, which permits the legal sale and recreational use of certain drugs. Essentially, following scientific research into the safety of a new drug, the government is able to approve it for sale and consumption, while maintaining strict regulation. The country’s Ministry of Health put out a statement declaring that previous legislation – almost identical to the UK’s current laws – had proven “ineffective”, as new drugs “can be synthesised to be one step ahead of existing controls”.

Since drug prohibition began, the creation and distribution of illegal substances has been a highly lucrative industry – one that shows no signs of deceleration. Manufacturers are creating new drugs faster than the government can ban them; suppliers are brazenly and legally undercutting elected politicians, and financially benefitting from doing so. The increased threat to the livelihoods of users, and the humiliation of our legislative process, could be reduced if the EC’s scheme was implemented. The European Commission’s proposal was an opportunity to reduce the harm of both drug use and drug dealing. The rejection of the proposal was yet another lost battle in the government’s unremitting war on drugs.


The War on Drugs is a tool of state oppression

This article was first published by the Independent.



(Photo source:

Drug prohibition – the illegality of many psychoactive substances – is an accepted norm in the UK, although this hasn’t been the case for long.

In 1971, Parliament passed the Misuse of Drugs Act; the first major national prohibition legislation, and the cornerstone of the British war on drugs. A few amendments have been added since then, particularly in regards to ‘legal highs’, but overall, the essence of the law has remained the same for the past 42 years. It is no wonder that prohibition is so widely accepted; the majority of people in Britain were born after this Act was introduced, and many do not remember a time before it. For this reason, it is vital for people today to realise the relatively recent root of drug policy – as a tool of discriminatory state oppression in the United States.

“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men”, said Harry Anslinger, the narcotics commissioner in the early 20th Century who was foremost responsible for the prohibition of cannabis in the US, “the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races”. Similar racist myths were delivered to the white American public at the time, and they became terrified that opium incites the “Chinamen’s wiles” and that, in the words of one US doctor, “the negro who has […] formed the cocaine habit seems absolutely beyond redemption”.

It was important for the US to introduce laws aimed at subjugating ethnic minorities, because as laws of racial segregation were wearing away, the government desired a legal and less overtly discriminatory way to criminalise sections of society and maintain the established social hierarchy. This is still evident in the US today, where statistics show that black and white Americans consume and sell drugs at similar rates, yet blacks are far more likely to be arrested and imprisoned for doing so. Since the beginning, drug policies have not truly been about controlling drugs, they have been about controlling people.

The US pushed for global prohibition of a number of substances, but without being able to intrude on the laws of sovereign states, it used the most effective available tool – the League of Nations. The League was the precursor to the United Nations, and formed at the end of World War I when the Treaty of Versailles was signed.

This peace treaty brought order and stability to warring nations, but what many may not know is that it heralded a beginning to international drug control. All states who ratified this treaty in 1919 agreed to a short and discreet note within Article 23: “[signatory nations] will entrust the League [of Nations] with the general supervision over […] illegal drugs”. After World War II, the League dissolved, and the United Nations took control of international law, and introduced the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which has defined prohibition ever since.

Today, in Britain, the oppressive legacy of the war on drugs lives on. Black Britons are six times more likely to be searched for drugs than their white counterparts, and are twice as likely to be criminally charged – rather than receive a warning – for possession. However, unlike the US, Britain does not have a long history of racism (at least on our own soil). The victims of the war on drugs in Britain are predominantly the working class – be they black, white or Asian. The manner in which the war on drugs is carried out protects the wealthy from prosecution; exemplified by the late Eva Rausing, from a billionaire family, who only received a caution in 2008 for the possession of 2.5g of heroin and 60g of cocaine. This sharply contrasts with the case of Daniel Richardson, a 23-year-old Morrison’s worker, who was jailed for four years in August after cocaine was found in his work bag.

Last week, Durham Chief Constable Mike Barton made headlines by claiming that drug prohibition in the UK has “comprehensively failed” and legislation to enforce it has “put billions into the hands of villains”. This week theInternational Centre for Science in Drug Policy put out a report calling for the consideration of drugs as an issue of public health issue rather than a matter for the criminal justice system. Drug addicts should be “treated and cared for, not criminalised”, the report stated.

However, regardless of scientific evidence and growingly progressive public opinion, countless Britons, who never harmed anyone in their lives, have been systematically jailed alongside murderers and rapists for 42 years. Just as racist American leaders once used prohibition to subjugate ethnic minorities, the current British government is using prohibition to keep the working class in their place. Prohibition is the penalisation of individuals because of their personal life choices; drug use is one of the only victimless crimes in British law. It is high time for Britain to withdraw from the UN Single Convention, and to repeal the outdated Misuse of Drugs Act.

Long before his country began criminalising lifestyle choices, Abraham Lincoln remarked on prohibition; “[it] goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control mans’ appetite through legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not even crimes”.


5 Things We Can Learn From New Zealand’s Innovative Law to Regulate New Drugs

This piece was originally published on the Huffington Post and the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.

New Zealand has seen the enactment of revolutionary policy changes to the norm of drug prohibition that no other country has experienced.

While the U.S., Uruguay, and certain European states have taken recent strides in reforming marijuana policy, New Zealand focused on newer, less-known substances. In July, the parliament passed the Psychoactive Substances Bill which allows for the strictly regulated, but legal, sale of a number of synthetic narcotics commonly known as ‘legal highs’ or ‘party pills.’

So, what can New Zealand’s new approach teach the rest of the world about reforming drug policy?

1. Drugs are safer to consume if they are legal

One of the biggest risks with consuming any illegal substance is the question of purity Cocaine, MDMA, ketamine, and many of the substances colloquially referred to as ‘bath salts’ all come in the form of an indistinct white powder. The Psychoactive Substance Bill ensures that newly-legalized drugs are rigorously tested, have their contents clearly detailed on packaging, and that purity is guaranteed.

2. Regulation protects children and educates users

The Psychoactive Substance Bill restricts sale of drugs to individuals 18 or older. Unlike licensed stores, illegal drug dealers don’t ask for ID, and are unlikely to forewarn their customers of the safest methods and doses of consumption. The new system of regulation reduces the accessibility of these drugs to minors, while educating users about the risks of use, including how to avoid overdose. The belief that legalization encourages drug use among young people is largely unfounded; marijuana use among teens is higher in the U.S. than it is in the Netherlands– where it is legally available but restricted to adults.

3. Sale of a legal drug does not fund criminal enterprise

The new legislation will allow the entire supply chain – production, transport, and sale – of many synthetic narcotics to be taxed and regulated. Unlike with the sale of illegal substances, the profits earned from selling these legal drugs will be directed to legitimate businesses, as well as to government initiatives via tax. This will lead to a reduction in the violent crime that stems from the drug trade, as the profits from synthetic drug sales won’t be empowering violent gangs.

4. Criminalizing synthetic drugs is a futile battle

Synthetic drugs are man-made. Therefore, under traditional prohibition, when the government outlaws a synthetic drug, manufacturers simply have to make a slight alteration to the product’s chemical composition to avoid the law. The profitability of the trade motivates producers to continue creating new and different substances faster than the law can catch up. New Zealand’s reform has allowed the parliament to avoid the need for constant legislation, and allows consumers to properly understand the range of narcotics that are available.

5. Effective drugs laws give people faith in the system

“Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government,” said Albert Einstein, “than passing laws which cannot be enforced”. How can the government expect to be trusted by the people if it openly, and expensively, fails at protecting them? 82 percent of Americans believe that their country is losing the drug war, and they’re right – prohibition has not reduced drug use or trafficking. New Zealand’s strategy indicates a new frontier in the international fight against criminality, and creates hope for a fairer future for drug policy.


Mexico vs. Marijuana


The bodies of cartel gunmen beside their vehicle after a shootout with Mexican soldiers (Source:

Mexico is, arguably, the nation worst affected by the war on drugs. Since the country’s intensification of aggressive prohibitionism in 2006, more than 70,000 Mexicans have been killed in drug-related violence, although the true figure is unknown. Such criminality has become so prevalent that it barely makes headlines, and the cartels exacting this violence are targeting all levels of Mexican society; ordinary civilians, journalists, police, soldiers and numerous public officials. Staggeringly, in the past seven years, at least 30 Mexican mayors have been murdered for daring to stand up to trafficking groups, including 15 in 2010 alone.

Mexican cooperation with US-sponsored counter-narcotic schemes, most notably the 2008 Mérida Initiative, has led to a further militarization of the drug war, yet little success. A 2010 report suggests that illegal narcotic transactions with the United States continue to boom; earning Mexican cartels around $40billion every year. The incredible wealth of these organizations is the primary reason that Mexican forces struggle to decrease trafficking or subdue the violence. Additionally, government corruption is a significant repercussion of the traffickers’ power; a 2012 exposé by political science professor Stephen Morris refers to the indictment or prosecution of Mexican “prison officials, military and police commanders, governors […], district attorneys, mayors and city officials, and hundreds of military police” for tacit involvement in the drug trade.

To reduce violence and corruption, it is vital for the state to act efficiently in reducing the income of cartels by targeting one of their main cash crops: marijuana. There are no verifiable statistics of how much marijuana trafficking contributes to Mexican cartels’ overall earnings, as estimates vary wildly – from 25–60%. However, it is undeniable that significant profits are made from the production and trafficking of the flowering plant. If marijuana were to be legalized, regulated and taxed, the trade could be taken over by either the state or legitimate private businesses. Legalization would be financially devastating for traffickers, and could potentially raise sufficient tax revenue for the government to suppress the vicious aspects of cartel activity that are destabilizing the state. Of course, as opponents argue, cartels may continue to fund their operations by selling marijuana through a legal system, but the legitimizing of the trade would vastly offset the associated violence and corruption.

This is not revolutionary thinking; Mexico has been ravaged by prohibitionism for decades, and critics have long-called for a reform of marijuana policy. However, the past year has seen significant international momentum growing against marijuana prohibition – from the passing of legalization laws in Colorado and Washington, to the on-going success of a legalization bill in the Uruguayan congress. Perhaps most importantly, senior Mexican political figures are now beginning to embrace the idea of legalization, and are publicly declaring so.

Earlier this month, a representative of the Mexico City council announced that the legalization of cultivation and usage was being considered – albeit being restricted to the capital city. Although well-intentioned, this measure may be insufficient even if implemented, as only nationwide legalization could be efficient in removing the trade from the hands of organized criminals. Meanwhile, former president Vicente Fox has placed himself firmly behind the anti-prohibitionist cause; comparing the illegality of marijuana to bans upon abortion and equal marriage – he declared “these arbitrarily imposed prohibitions have ended. And they ended because they don’t work”. Inversely, current president Enrique Peña Nieto has opposed such a change, citing the debunked myth of marijuana being a “gateway drug”.

Mexico’s proximity to the United States – the world leader in illegal drug consumption – has caused its citizens to face some of the deadliest consequences of militarized prohibitionism. As states across the USA reform their marijuana policy, it is essential for Mexico to keep up with their northern neighbor, and to end their war on marijuana before it claims more casualties.


The discovery of 120 tons of marijuana by the Mexican army – worth an estimated $180 million to cartels (Source:


Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: The Injustice of the US Justice Department

The United States has, by far, the largest incarceration rate in the world – with nearly 25% of the world’s inmate population, despite having only 5% of the world’s total population. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, over 500,000 of these prisoners – in both federal and state penitentiaries – are non-violent drug offenders. Alongside the human cost of this repressive imprisonment policy, a considerable financial burden exists; imprisoning an individual in a minimum-security facility for one year costs $21,000, therefore, approximately $10billion is spent incarcerating non-violent drug offenders annually. One of the primary causes of this systemic incarceration, that has predominantly targeted Black and Hispanic individuals, has been the existence of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.


Mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offences has existed in varying degrees in the US for over half a century, and has targeted both dealers and users of illegal narcotics. This unjust practice essentially twists the arm of judges, disallowing them from making rational decisions on individual cases. The case for reform was put forward in a Senate hearing last week, and was a particularly noteworthy development as it garnered bipartisan support. Republican Senator Rand Paul insisted that “each case should be judged on its own merits […and that] mandatory minimums prevent this from happening”, while Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy labeled the sentencing program as “a great mistake” that is “costly [and] unfair”.

The Senate hearing was followed, on Thursday 19th September, by a groundbreaking declaration by Attorney General Eric Holder. Essentially, the announcement outlined an intention to halt mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offences, except in certain extreme cases – such as those involving the use of a weapon or selling to minors.

The devastation that mandatory minimum sentencing has caused is unmistakable, and one man who knows that all too well is Anthony Papa. Papa is the manager of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance, as well as being a respected author, a revered artist and a doting father. He is also a convicted felon, who received a sentence of 15 years to life for a first-time, non-violent drug offence. In the early 1980s, Papa was offered $500 by an acquaintance to deliver an envelope to a mysterious recipient just outside of New York City. Unbeknownst to Papa, his acquaintance was a police informant, the envelope contained cocaine, and the recipient was part of a law enforcement ‘sting’ operation. Due to the strict mandatory minimum sentencing laws in New York – enacted by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1973 – the judge in Papa’s trial had little flexibility in the sentencing, despite the controversial and unethical circumstances of his arrest and indictment.

The movement towards a fairer justice system has grown considerably with the Attorney General’s announcement, and hopefully means that cases such as that of Anthony Papa will not reoccur. However, it is also important for the end of mandatory minimums to be applied retroactively – so that individuals currently serving inordinately long sentences for non-violent drug crimes can receive a more rational trial and sentence. It is hypocritical for representatives of both political parties, as well as the Department of Justice, to claim to be resolving the injustices of mandatory minimums while allowing countless harmless Americans to rot in jail. As Martin Luther King wrote from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.


Most Americans Live in a State Where the Federal Marijuana Law Does Not Apply

The nationwide illegality of marijuana was established under the 43-year-old Controlled Substances Act, which classifies the plant as a Schedule I drug, alongside dangerous substances such as heroin. However, beginning with decriminalization in Oregon in 1973, state legislatures have gradually taken it upon themselves to oppose this federal encroachment upon personal freedoms.
On August 1, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill to allow for medical marijuana in his state. This resulted in a subtle but important change. The number of Americans living in a state with fully-criminalized marijuana fell – for the first time since prohibition began – to below 50 percent of the national population. 
In other words, the federal law that criminalizes marijuana possession outright has been, theoretically, overridden by state legislatures in the majority of the USA. 27 states (and Washington, D.C.) have liberalized their law books, resulting in approximately 170 million Americans living in a state where marijuana possession has been legalized, decriminalized, or made medicinally available.
Additionally, a nationwide survey from March of this year found that 52 percent of Americans support legalization, and 45 percent oppose it. 
On August 29, the Department of Justice issued a directive to the 22 states with medicinal marijuana, as well as Colorado and Washington – where the plant is recreationally available. The federal government will no longer interfere with their state marijuana laws, as long as a number of stipulations are adhered to – such as preventing distribution to minors. 
This was a momentous change in the national drug policy, and perhaps occurred because of the government’s realization that they were actively suppressing the democratic will of the majority of Americans.
Despite this progress, marijuana remains federally illegal as a Schedule I drug. In many parts of this country, marijuana users are being imprisoned, and the plant’s prohibition allows gang wars to rage on. Meanwhile, the impact of US marijuana prohibition is incomparably more painful for those living south of the border, where violent cartels build their empires on illegally-gained American dollars.
The Department of Justice’s decision is certainly a step in the right direction, but the failures of the war on marijuana will never be truly rectified until the government backs down from its criminalization of the plant.

Remember the International Overdose Awareness Day

This Saturday, August 31, marks International Overdose Awareness Day, and there hasn’t been a more important time to get involved. Drug overdose is now the number one cause of accidental death of Americans between the ages of 35 and 54; amassing a death toll of over 38,000 in 2010. That’s the equivalent of a city the size of Berkeley being wiped out every three years.
International Overdose Awareness Day is an occasion to promote a variety of policies that protect vulnerable segments of society. One such policy, the 911 Good Samaritan law, provides a level of immunity from arrest for low-level drug offences; allowing acquaintances of an overdosing individual to call emergency services without fear of prosecution. DPA spearheaded the passage of New Mexico’s ‘Good Samaritan’ legislation in 2007, and has passionately supported the implementation of such laws in 13 other states, including in New Jersey in May of this year.
Another vital tenet of harm reduction and overdose prevention is improving the availability of the life-saving drug, naloxone. Naloxone is an inexpensive, non-addictive, non-toxic, easily-administered and FDA-approved substance used as an antidote for individuals overdosing on opiate drugs, particularly heroin. Research shows that – with improved accessibility – naloxone could effectively halve the number of overdose death rates.
Entrenching ‘Good Samaritan’ laws and naloxone availability into state drug policy programs are vital steps, but they are not enough. Meghan Ralston, the harm reduction manager for DPA, insists that “much more is needed, such as integrating overdose prevention into existing drug education programs.” Alarming data shows that the number of first-time heroin users in the United States doubled between 2006 and 2011; it is vital for the federal and state governments to offer appropriate and humane legislation to correspond with the speed of these changes. This Saturday, on International Overdose Awareness Day, make it known to your friends, family and representatives that you support overdose prevention policies.