Over the last few years there has been undeniable momentum to end our country's disastrous war on drugs. Both voters and elected officials are looking for alternatives to the unwinnable drug war. 2015 continued the trend. Here are some of the top stories of the year that give us hope.
President Obama Visits Prison and Gets Real about Criminal Justice Reform
President Obama spoke out forcefully against mass incarceration and the need for criminal justice reform. He challenged Congress to send him legislation that would end mandatory minimums and reduce sentences for those behind bars and he became the first president to visit a prison in July. The president also used his pardon power in a bigger way by granting 46 clemencies and is helping formerly incarceratedpeople reenter society by "banning the box" for those applying for federal jobs.
58 Percent Support for Legalizing Marijuana
According to an October Gallup poll, 58% of Americans say marijuana use should be legal in the United States. Not only is this a clear majority, but the numbers are increasing post legalization in Colorado, Washington Alaska, Oregon and Washington D.C.. California and others will hit the ballot box in 2016 to hopefully push us past the tipping point on marijuana legalization.
Canada and Mexico Make Major Moves on Marijuana Legalization
In October, Canada voted in Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party. The Liberal Party has promised to legalize marijuana in Canada.
Around the same time, the Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition of the consumption of marijuana - and cultivation for non-commercial ends - violates the human right to the free development of one's personality. This landmark case could lead to the legalization of recreational marijuana use.
#BlackLivesMatter Awakens the Nation and Moves Elected Officials on Criminal Justice
The #BlackLivesMatter movement put police killings and abuse into America's consciousness. They were instrumental in getting elected officials and political leaders to address the systemic racism and the criminal injustice system. There is no more business as usual when it comes to tanks in our communities or abusive police tactics in the name of the war on drugs.
Harm Reduction Overdose Prevention Hits the Mainstream, from CVS Pharmacies to the Drug Czar
This year, CVS became the first chain pharmacy to sell the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone without a prescription. CVS stores in 14 states make the lifesaving drug available to friends and family members of people at risk of an opiate overdose.
The Drug Czar also is a big advocate of arming first responders with naloxone.
130 Leading Law Enforcement Leaders Join Call to End Mass Incarceration
Law enforcement officials made front page news by calling for an end to mass incarceration. According to the New York Times: "More than 130 police chiefs, prosecutors and sheriffs -- including some of the most prominent law enforcement officials in the country -- are adding their clout to the movement to reduce the nation's incarceration rate."
Momentum Builds for Supervised Injection Facilities in the U.S.
In September, a town hall brought together 500 New Yorkers who support supervised injection facilities (SIFs) in NYC. A panel of international experts presented scientific evidence supporting supervised injection facilities and explained how SIFs can solve a host of public health problems, including reducing HIV and overdose deaths. There are nearly 100 SIFs in 66 cities worldwide. This lifesaving strategy will be coming to the U.S. soon.
Everyone is Jumping on the Anti-Drug War Bandwagon
Amy Schumer, Steph Curry, Ed Norton, Jesse Williams, Chris Pine, Russell Simmons, and Piper Kerman were among nearly 100 celebrities calling for reform to our criminal justice system. The stars joined the campaign led by #cut50, a bipartisan effort to reduce our incarcerated population by 50 percent over the next 10 years.
1,500 people from 71 countries around the world just met in the DC Metro Area to attend theInternational Drug Policy Reform Conference where they developed an exit strategy for the failed war on drugs. The group left energized and inspired!
We are at a paradoxical moment in our country. We are clearly moving in the right direction toward a more rational drug policy based on science, compassion, health and human rights. But we need to step up our efforts, and continue to win hearts and minds because the casualties from the war continue to mount daily.
Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.org)
This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.