Former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy knows firsthand about addiction. Kennedy checked into a rehab center in 2007 for his addiction to Oxycodone after crashing his car while intoxicated.
Kennedy is now leading a group called Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) to actively oppose marijuana legalization, trying to stem the momentum from Colorado and Washington's recent votes to tax and regulate marijuana.
While I am compassionate to Kennedy and others in recovery who have had serious problems with drugs, I believe it is a mistake for him to support our failed and disastrous marijuana prohibition.
Here are some reasons why people in recovery should oppose our marijuana arrest crusade and the drug war as a whole.
It is insane to arrest 650,000 people a year for marijuana possession.
More than 650,000 people were arrested in 2011 for simple marijuana possession, making up half of all drug arrests. The vast majority of these people do not have drug problems and their arrests cause so much more pain and suffering than their marijuana use. Getting busted for marijuana can cost you your job, your housing, your children, and your chance at a fair shot to succeed in society. People who are concerned about substance abuse should actively oppose arresting people for small amounts of marijuana.
Marijuana arrests take away treatment slots for people who actually need it.
Despite the government's lip service about the need for treatment, most of the drug budget still goes to criminal justice and military agencies. The majority of those who need treatment can't get it. Ironically, many people who don't need treatment are forced into treatment. Thanks to the proliferation of the "drug court" model -- championed by the Obama administration and Congress despite their lack of effectiveness -- far too many treatment slots are wasted on people who are arrested for marijuana and then told by a judge to get treatment or go to jail.
Marijuana use may keep someone from using drugs that are more harmful to them.
The vast majority of treatment programs are based on the outdated abstinence-only model and punish those who use marijuana. If someone has a heroin problem and has given it up but still wants to use marijuana, we should not be kicking them out of treatment and into jail simply because they want to use a safer drug.
Wasted taxpayer dollars.
At a time when we're cutting state budgets for education, states are spending millions a day imprisoning drug offenders. It's time to rethink our priorities. Think what could be done with the billions of dollars that are currently used in the futile effort to stop marijuana use. Those billions could be used for treatment, teachers, job training programs, and other investments that improve the safety and health of our communities
The war on drugs is really a war on people.
The biggest problem we face isn't the use of drugs, it's the misuse of drugs. Anyone who has struggled, or seen a loved one struggle with addiction knows that drug abuse is a difficult, personal, and complicated issue, not one that's going to be solved with a bumper sticker or simplistic solutions. It's time to step back and ask ourselves what's the best way to solve the problem we're trying to solve -- how to reduce drug abuse and addiction -- and use the best available evidence to guide us. Patrick Kennedy and people who know about addiction should be working to end the war on drugs, not defending it.
Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.org)