MD Delegate Wants to End the War on Drugs

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Law to decriminalize possession of Heroin and Cocaine along with treatment on demand will prevent criminalizing addiction

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TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: This is Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Annapolis. The Maryland General Assembly is not only focusing on overdose deaths, but it’s taking aim at the war on drugs itself.

The war on drugs in Maryland is big business, as it is in most parts of the U.S. In 2010, the ACLU revealed Maryland spent nearly $106 million just for minor marijuana arrests alone. And last year, the state law enforcement arrested 43,000 individuals for minor drug possession. It’s big numbers for jailers, cops, and the judiciary, which resonates in a nation that has criminalized addictions and incarcerates more people than any other country in the world.

DAN MORHAIM: The current narcotic overdose crisis is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s called attention to a failed policy long ignored.

GRAHAM: But today in the Annapolis state capitol, delegate Dan Morhaim made a dramatic push for change.

MORHAIM: It’s time to recognize that however well-intentioned, the so-called war on drugs is not working. After 50-plus years of trying, we are worse off than when we started, and the toll is immense.

GRAHAM: And series of unprecedented proposals to turn addiction from a growth industry for police into a medical condition to be treated.

MORHAIM: One: making hospitals a focus for addiction treatment, with treatment [at] need. Hospitals are open, safe. They’re there 24/7, 365, well-lit. There’s no NIMBY issue. Safe consumption facilities where overdose fatalities have been reduced to zero.

GRAHAM: Among the bills Morhaim is planning to introduce is a measure to decriminalize possession of small amounts of heroin and cocaine.

MORHAIM: Decriminalization of small amounts of all drugs, as has been done for marijuana in this state, so that people are not stigmatized for life. This is not legalization. Selling, dealing, et cetera, will continue to be illegal, with current penalties in place.

GRAHAM: And to create safe places for people to use. Morhaim also wants the state of Maryland to provide treatment upon demand, all based on evidence that he says shows that the war on drugs has failed.

MORHAIM: To get to the heart of the matter, a strong public health approach must become a larger part of our solution, and the focus must be harm reduction, both for those with substance abuse problems and the rest of society.

GRAHAM: Supporters noted that the efforts to decriminalize drugs has gained momentum, only as the larger segment of the country, the white population, has become addicted.

SPEAKER: The war on drugs has been a war on blacks and Latinos, and the poor. Simply put. And now that we realize that substance abuse, doesn’t matter who you are, now it’s a public health issue. So I am somewhat cynical, but I’m also hopeful that now we are finally addressing it as a public health issue. This is not a moral failure.

GRAHAM: Neil Franklin, a former narcotics officer, and now a leader of LEAP, Law Enforcement Officers Against Prohibition, says he hopes the laws will begin a transformation of policing.

NEIL FRANKLIN: And it’s about time that we begin to abandon this 40-year effort to solve a public health crisis with criminal justice solutions. It doesn’t work. It’s time that we put our healthcare practitioners front and center.

GRAHAM: And more importantly, that the money and the power the war on drugs has afforded those who enforce it will become something more constructive.

FRANKLIN: On a daily basis, continue to round up so many people who are suffering from addiction, and we put them in prison.

GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham, Stephen Janis, and Megan Sherman reporting for the Real News Network in Annapolis.

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DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.