People to People Blog

It’s Time for the US to Decriminalize Drug Use and Possession

On February 6th Global Exchange and the Drug Policy Alliance held a web panel on a topic whose time has come.

Lt. Diane Goldstein (Ret.) of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership; Grace Meng of Human Rights Watch; and Grey Gardner of the Drug Policy Alliance shared their experience in the fields of policy advocacy, law, human rights, and law enforcement to guide us into this much needed discussion of drug decriminalization. The panel was moderated by Marco Castillo of Global Exchange.

The U.S. war on drugs – a constellation of laws and policies that seeks to prevent the use of certain drugs, primarily through punishment and coercion – has been a catastrophic failure.

Indeed, federal and state policies that are designed to be “tough” on people who use and sell illegal drugs have sent millions to jail and permanently branded millions of otherwise law-abiding civilians as “criminals”. These policies not only fail in their stated objectives of reducing drug-related death, disease, and suffering, they have exacerbated it! And, they are at the root of human rights catastrophes in drug producing and transiting countries in our hemisphere and around the world.

On any given night in the US there are at least 133,000 people behind bars in prisons and jails for drug possession – and 63,000 of them are held pre-trial. Hundreds of thousands of people also remain under some form of correctional supervision (probation, parole, or other post-prison supervision) for drug possession.

People convicted of drug possession face a host of additional consequences, including the loss of federal financial aid, eviction from public housing, disqualification from a wide range of occupational licenses, loss of the right to vote, denial of public assistance, and deportation.

Drug decriminalization is a critical next step toward achieving a rational drug policy based in science and public health rather than outdated notions about the effectiveness of punishment and incarceration. Decades of evidence has clearly demonstrated that decriminalization is a sensible path forward that would reap vast human and fiscal benefits, while protecting families and communities.


Grey Gardner of Drug Policy Alliance is a staff attorney for the *Drug Policy Alliance focused on criminal justice reform policy and litigation. Grey has a diverse background in criminal defense litigation, legislative analysis, and political advocacy. He served as a trial attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of Colombia, the Legal Aid Society in New York City, and in solo practice, and has also worked in legislative and political roles for several members of Congress and Goodwill Industries International.

Lt. Diane Goldstein (Ret.) of  Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) is a 21-year veteran of the Redondo Beach Police Department in California. She is the board chair of the LEAP, a group of police, prosecutors, judges and other criminal justice professionals who advance sensible criminal justice policy solutions that include making communities safer by focusing law enforcement resources on the greatest threats to public safety while promoting alternatives to arrest and incarceration like the decriminalization of drug use and possession.

Grace Meng is a human rights researcher, advocate, and writer. As a senior researcher of the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch, she focuses primarily on the rights of immigrants in the United States, with a particular focus on the intersections of immigration and criminal law. She authored this June 2015 Report on the impact of the war on drugs on immigrants in the US.

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1 Comment

  1. Alot of the men I know who smoke pot look alot younger than people that dont, that are in their 60’s and i know that i worked with so many people who smoke pot on the way to work everyday in PA. thank you for your suport and hard fight for our freedom and human rights in america. i have donated and love all that you have done for our freedom. also our freedom to persue happyness is unalianabl under god through the decleration of independence when our freedom to persue happyness is under god the goverment can not regulate our religious freedom to persue happyness in america. Deuteronomy 14: 26 “and though shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul desireth after oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, and strong drink or for whatsoever they soul desirth and though shalt eat their before the lord thy god, and though shalt rejoice thou and thy household.” soloman would mix his wine and they mixed it with opium, alot of priest know this. i know that we can start overturning cases by the judges ablity to interpit the law trough our right to persue happness under god before our first amenment.

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