Dia de los Muertos: Honoring Our Loved Ones by Voting to End the War on Drugs

Like many Latinos throughout the Americas, I will be celebrating Dia de los Muertos this year by building an altar in honor of those whom I hold most dear in my life that have left this world but not left me. And spending the past year working on drug policy reform at the Drug Policy Alliance has left me with a need to also mourn for all those who have fallen victim to the failed policies of the war on drugs.

From Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO to the missing 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, the number of people whose lives have been ruthlessly taken from us as a result of the drug war has continued to grow at an unconscionable rate. In recent years, over 70,000 have been killed by drug war related violence, 250,000 have been deported just for drug possession, and in the last year alone, over 40,000 children have been reported to have migrated north in search of safe refuge only to find a different kind of violence in detention centers.

But we have an answer that can mitigate the bloodshed -- repeal marijuana prohibition and take a step closer to ending the failed war on drugs.

On Tuesday, November 4, U.S. voters will have the opportunity to make their voices heard and vote for elected representatives who will ultimately determine whether to continue the failed war on drugs or move towards ending it, and in places like Alaska, Washington D.C. and Oregon, voters will directly hold the fate of marijuana prohibition in their hands.

But voting to repeal prohibition isn't just about marijuana. It's about ending the criminalization of our communities, stopping the killings, and ensuring that our tax dollars are spent on our children's education -- not their incarceration.

Below are three reasons why Latinos should vote for elected officials who support ending prohibition, and why we should vote to end prohibition in Oregon, Washington D.C., and Alaska.

Marijuana prohibition discriminates against African-Americans and Latinos

People of color are disproportionately targeted for citation and arrests for marijuana. Nationwide, Blacks are nearly four times more likely to be arrested or cited for marijuana use than whites even though their usage rates are equivalent. It is very difficult to capture numbers when it comes to the Latino population because in many cases, Latinos are falsely categorized as white.

However, recent data from New York (one of only two states that have Latino arrest data available) indicates that Latinos are arrested at nearly four times the rate of whites for marijuana, it's nearly five times the rate for Blacks. Getting arrested for a minor drug offense can lead to a criminal record -- which will make it difficult for people to get a job, rent an apartment, go to college, and even apply for a credit card.

Police are wasting time and energy on marijuana arrests

Every forty two seconds, someone gets arrested or cited for marijuana. Police are wasting time and energy putting people in jail for nonviolent possession/use of marijuana. This time could be better spent on what we really need in our communities: patrolling for and preventing assaults and theft, pursuing violent criminals, and working on unresolved cases.

Prohibition is feeding the cartels and a waste of tax payer's money

The tax dollars wasted on arresting, incarcerating and deporting people for simple marijuana possession means that much less is being used for more productive initiatives that will truly make our communities safer and our economies stronger.

Repealing prohibition would deal a huge blow to the underground drug market and help stop the violence that has been devastating Latin America for the past decade and sending unaccompanied children north in search of refuge.

All voters, including Latino voters, have the opportunity to take a huge steps towards ending the failed war and drugs. Voting is our most powerful weapon against mass incarceration, deportations, and ruthless cartels.

So, while I will be building an altar in honor of all those whose lives were taken from them by drug war violence on November 1, I will be voting for justice on November 4. I hope you do so too.

Jeronimo Saldaña is the legislative and organizing coordinator for the movement building team at the Drug Policy Alliance.