The past year has been an eventful one for the drug policy reform movement.
The legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington State energized reformers as never before, and caused those outside the movement to sit up and take notice.
Speaking before the American Bar Association last summer, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out against the unfairness and undue harshness of federal drug laws. His statements were unprecedented for a sitting cabinet member. Shortly thereafter, Holder issued new federal sentencing guidelines for drug law violations.
A Gallup poll found for the first time ever a majority of people think marijuana should be legalized altogether.
In December the President commuted the sentences of eight persons convicted of crack cocaine violations whose decades-long sentences would not have been relieved by the new guidelines.
And 2014 began with media images of long lines assembled in eager anticipation of the first marijuana dispensaries opening in Colorado.
From our perspective, the second biennial Texas Drug Policy Conference presented by Mothers Against Teen Violence (MATV) couldn't have come at a better time. Friday and Saturday, nearly 250 persons gathered at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas to discuss drug policy in a way that is most relevant and useful to Texans. The keynote speaker and Humanitarian Award recipient was Dr. Carl Hart, a brilliant neuroscientist, professor and author from Columbia University. With the exception of Dr. Hart, this convening featured the amazing activists and experts living and working in Texas to advance the drug policy reform movement.
The conference was a wonderful success for attendance, quality of speakers and panelist, and the energy and diversity in the room.
As I basked in the glow of success, casually reviewing congratulatory emails and Facebook shares, another major story broke about drug policy Sunday afternoon. In a New Yorker magazine interview, President Obama conceded marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer."
Concerning the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, the President said it was important for these laws to go forward in those states to avoid a situation in which only a few are punished while a large portion of people have broken the law at one time or another.
Referring to the disproportionate number of arrests and imprisonments of persons of color for marijuana use, the president said, "Middle-class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do. And African American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties."
I came to the reform movement, not as a drug user, but as the mother of a son who was an innocent victim of drug prohibition violence. Armed with the knowledge that people and communities of color have borne the brunt of our nation's drug war, we rebranded MATV to be a clear and strong voice for drug policy reform.
I have found this issue to be a tough sell when reaching out to persons and organizations of color. For that reason, it is unbelievably satisfying to hear the President of the United States make statements that affirm much of MATV's messaging and work. The president's remarks may not be sufficient to give communities of color the courage to get off the sidelines and join this movement en masse. But one can hope.
There is a distinct possibility that the next year could prove even more interesting and exciting than the last for the reform movement.