By Tessie Castillo for The Fix. The unprecedented shift on the federal and local level towards a health-based approach to drug use seemed to signal the impending demise of a $1 trillion drug war that has left the country with a crippling public health problem, the largest incarcerated population in the world, and addiction rates as high as ever. Last year heralded such victories as the largest number of states ever passing naloxone access laws to save lives from drug overdose, a surge for justice with the Black Lives Matter movement, a historic Congressional deal to roll back mandatory minimum sentencing, and the release of 6,000 prisoners convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. Can the momentum continue? Let’s take a look at what’s on the horizon for 2016.
1. Marijuana Reform – The End of Prohibition?
Marijuana legalization will have a pivotal year in 2016. Following on the heels of Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, several states are considering similar legislation or ballot initiatives, including California, Nevada, Arizona, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine and Massachusetts. If just a few of these states legalize marijuana, it could be the tipping point for the rest of the country to follow. As most advocates could tell you, marijuana legalization is less about increasing access to the drug than it is about cutting back on the collateral consequences of criminalization. Former president Jimmy Carter nailed it when he said, “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use.” Marijuana arrests account for more than half of all drug arrests in the United States and according to an ACLU study, 88% of those arrests were for possession only. Also, people of color are more than three times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana, despite similar usage rates. Legalization means millions of people who might not see the inside of a jail cell or be shackled with the lifetime of stigma and discrimination that comes from having a criminal record.