Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) Interview
The Drug Policy Alliance is a non-governmental organization dedicated to the vision of “a just society in which the use and regulation of drugs are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.” Their mission is to “advance policies and attitudes that best reduce the harms of drug use and drug prohibition, and to promote the sovereignty of individuals over their minds and bodies.”
Jolene Forman | Staff Attorney
Pronouns: She, Her, Hers
What is The DPA’s mission and how do you go about fulfilling your objectives?
The DPA is a local, state, and national organization that advocates to end the “War on Drugs” and build new drug policies that are grounded in science, compassion, health, and human rights. To fulfill these objectives we advocate replacement of criminal laws that arbitrarily punishes drug-related conduct and increase drug-related harms with sensible, evidence-based policies that are focused on improving public health and safety.
Why should Marijuana legalization be considered an important issue when there are arguably more important matters in the world?
Marijuana legalization is important because the laws prohibiting it are based on racial animus and enforced in a racially unequal manner. The majority of this enforcement has been for personal marijuana possession and has disproportionately harmed black and brown individuals (despite similar rates of use across racial groups). Marijuana legalization offers an opportunity to prevent the unequal enforcement of marijuana prohibitions (which feeds our mass incarceration crisis) and to use the revenues generated by regulated sales to begin to repair some of the harms from the War on Drugs.
What would be the overt benefits of marijuana legalization?
Marijuana legalization is beneficial to public health and safety because it provides States with the opportunities to strictly control marijuana in a manner that they cannot under prohibition. For example, states can require strict packaging, labeling, and testing requirements for any marijuana before its sold, which protects consumers. And legalization provides states with the revenues to invest in programs that benefit their residents.
What is the DPA’s stance on privatized marijuana legalization versus governmentally controlled legalization?
Until federal law changes, we do not have the option for government controlled marijuana in the USA. Though a free marijuana market is imperfect, it is superior to prohibition which simply does not work. In addition, even under a free marijuana market, state and local governments can put restrictions in place to protect the public.
What does the DPA say about the human health concerns raised by medical professionals in regards to marijuana consumption?
Evidence shows that the health-related harms of marijuana consumption are minor compared to other, legal substances. Prohibition causes a whole host of health-related harms from the criminal consequences of a marijuana conviction to the dangers associated with the illicit trafficking of marijuana.
What is the DPA’s reaction to the Canadian legalization model implemented by PM Trudeau? Is there anything the DPA would want to change?
Canada’s legalization of marijuana rebukes the failures of the global drug war, which has ruined millions of lives. Canada’s bold and principled step will likely inspire many other countries and should influence US policy. Legalization in Canada (and Mexico) puts new pressure on the United States to reform our federal marijuana prohibitions. The time is now for Congress and the President to act to reform our drug laws.
The Canadian legalization model does not translate well in the U.S. at this time because they have legalized marijuana at the federal level and their federal system of government is structured differently than ours. That said, we will closely watch the implementation of marijuana legalization in Canada to learn what is working and what can be improved.
Why is legalization a better solution than decriminalization?
Legalization is a much better solution than decriminalization. Under decriminalization, we have seen modest decreases in the total number of people arrested for marijuana offenses, but the racial disparities in these arrests persist and sometimes even increase. Moreover, decriminalization does not provide states with the opportunity to strictly control the marijuana market and invest revenues for the social good.
Does the DPA feel that the marijuana industry is going to be corporatized?
There will be limits on the size and scale of marijuana operations as long as federal prohibitions remain in place. But we live in a capitalist country and legal marijuana operates in a free market, just like most other industries.
Why should people care about marijuana legalization?
Marijuana has long been a widely used substance and the most popular substance after tobacco and alcohol. However, it is less harmful than either. The criminal prohibitions of marijuana have caused additional harms to people unlucky enough to be caught up in our criminal/legal system. And these harms disproportionately harm black and brown individuals, despite similar rates of use across racial groups. Legalization provides an opportunity for states to stop wasting money on unfair and unequal marijuana enforcement, and instead to strictly regulate the market to protect the public and to invest revenues into programs that benefit society
What is the best argument you have heard against the legalization of marijuana?
I haven’t heard any compelling arguments against legalization. The evidence supports legalization. It shows that though marijuana legalization is not a panacea, it is clearly superior to prohibition, which was a complete failure. What we have learned from the states that have legalized is that they are effectively protecting public health and safety through strict marijuana regulations and investing revenues to further benefit the public.