Progress toward ending the failed "war on drugs"

On August 29, 2013 the DOJ announced that it will not interfere with state laws allowing medicinal and recreational use of marijuana. The Drug Policy Alliance explains the DOJ decision here. Drug policy and criminal justice reform advocates have hailed this as a major step forward in ending the “war on drugs” and accompanying collateral consequences of incarceration.
The same day that the DOJ decision was announced, Newark NJ mayor Corey Booker appeared on MSNBC’s All In to discuss his U.S. Senate bid. Booker has decided to focus on a criminal justice reform in his campaign. In this interview, Mayor Booker brings the interrelated issues of the “war on drugs,” the school to prison pipeline, disproportionate targeting of communities of color by law enforcement, and the prison-industrial complex into focus.

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“Let’s just be clear about what’s going on in American right now,” said Booker. “In New Jersey, 14% of my state is African American, and our prison system is over 60% black… Here we are 50 years from the March on Washington; here we are a century more, frankly, from battling the worst kind of white supremacy. Yet we’re creating these pipelines from failed schools to our prisons that are disproportionately affecting African Americans and the poor. But we’re all tied to the same destiny when it comes to solving these problems. We have to solve them, there has to be an urgency. It can’t be about attacking other sides. Figure out what the best things are to increase safety, lower taxpayer expenditures, and elevate human potential.”
Decriminalizing marijuana use certainly sets the stage for a pivot away from harsh criminalization and toward a policy of addressing the addiction and public health ramifications of drug use. As the website TPM reports, “Last week, a poll found that 82 percent of Americans believe the nation is losing the War on Drugs. That same poll found a majority agreed with a decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to reduce the number of mandatory minimum sentences for drug convictions, another important shift in federal policy. It reflects a belief among advocates, one endorsed by the White House itself, that drug addiction should be viewed more as a public health issue than a criminal one. In their mind, that’s the end game for the War [on Drugs].”