Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of over 7,000 individual members and 112 organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
It's true that California may pass Proposition 19 and become the first state to legalize marijuana. It's also true prohibition isn't going anywhere.
If polls reflect a growing appetite for legalization of marijuana, why is it that so few elected representatives — and by few I mean "none" — of note support it? If the war on drugs is by all metrics a failure, why is there not a single elected official in D.C. working on the terms of surrender?
They're a bunch of gutless weasels, you say? Perhaps. But they're also notoriously sensitive to public sentiment. And even if they opposed the drug war, what incentive do they have to act?
Sure, we can claim that illicit drugs are harmless. But having partaken in youthful "experimentation," I can say with empirical certainty this is untrue. If drugs were harmless, why did I try to convert Pez dispensers into bongs or choose journalism as a career?
To say that drugs are innocuous might be far less ludicrous than nearly anything scaremongering drug warriors contend, but it still makes for terrible politics.
We can argue that no law can stop motivated users from getting stoned. True enough. Rational people understand that demand will be met one way or another. Voters, though, are notoriously irrational. And few elected officials can make the case that lawlessness is a reason to disregard laws — that is, unless they aspire to be former elected officials.
We could argue that legalization won't trigger any increased usage. Yet, we know that casual use would probably increase.
We could argue that legalizing drugs would provide government with a great source of revenue (no worries; the "wealthiest among us" would pay their fair share). But a new Cato Institute study by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron and Katherine Waldock at NYU finds that there would be a rather unexceptional $17.4 billion in yearly national budgetary improvement from legalizing marijuana.
(For a number of reasons, there would be far more savings if we legalized potent narcotics. Then again, as it's nearly impossible to buy cough medicine without asking a cashier for permission, the prospects of heroin and methamphetamines party samplers remain murky at best.)
Or, we could keep pretending that pot has profound medicinal value. In Denver, a sham medical pot industry has blossomed and coincidentally there have been mass outbreaks of Andromeda Strain and Cooties among 20-somethings. This makes a mockery of real sickness, and threatens to turn one-time public support into deeper skepticism.
Meanwhile, the most honest arguments for legalization are also the most politically unattractive:
If people want to get stoned, it's none of your business. (Now that's a campaign slogan!) If an employer wants to test me, fine. If government wants to bray on about the troika of evil — drugs, cigarettes and Happy Meals — so be it. But the tradeoffs are clear. Today, we're creating international crime syndicates, we're locking up non-violent citizens and we're not altering behavior.
Yet, no matter who's in power, nothing changes. President Barack Obama made little effort to curtail the drug war. The DEA still ignores state law. Conservatives feel a moral obligation to continue prohibition. (Individual freedom ends where your rolling paper begins.)
The minority that wants real reform? Politically speaking, our bad arguments are terrible and our good ones are worse.