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October 29, 2004 - The Contra Costa Times (CA)

Time To Endorse Alternative To The 'War On Drugs'

By: Nate Miley, Alameda County Supervisor

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THE FEDERAL government's war on drugs has failed. It has destroyed lives, increased violence, failed to reduce drug use, unjustly targeted the African-American community and people of color, wasted billions of dollars on prosecuting and jailing nonviolent drug users, and untold billions more in the wasted potential of all those who have become "drug war casualties".

On Tuesday, Oakland voters have a historic opportunity to embrace a rationale, alternative approach by voting for Measure Z, the Oakland Cannabis Initiative. Measure Z would make private adult marijuana offenses the lowest police priority in Oakland, and direct the city to support changes in public policy aiming to regulate, license and tax the sales of marijuana to adults as soon as possible under California law.

This we know: current drug policy is an abject failure. Most egregious is the criminalization of marijuana as a "schedule one" drug, requiring it to be treated the same as cocaine and heroin, resulting in the imprisonment of thousands of nonviolent offenders, including a disproportionate number of people of color. Each year, California spends $150 million to arrest, prosecute and imprison marijuana offenders. In Oakland, there were 1000 marijuana arrests just last year.

It's time to send a clear message to John Aschroft and George W. Bush: this war has been a catastrophic public policy failure and we will no longer participate in it. If our goal is to decrease drug use, reduce violent crime, decrease taxpayer waste, and increase funding for our deteriorating schools, libraries, and health care system, then by all measurable standards the current war isn't working. Measure Z offers Oakland alternative, proven solutions, not more of the same. Consider the facts:

Drug use decreases when it is decriminalized, regulated and taxed. Measure Z calls for the regulation and taxation of marijuana, not criminalization. A RAND Corp. study found for every additional dollar invested in substance abuse treatment it saves taxpayers $7.46 in societal costs (crime, violence, loss of productivity, etc.).

Decriminalizing marijuana would save millions in taxpayer dollars, and generate millions more in tax revenue. It makes more economic sense to raise money by taxing and regulating the adult use of marijuana than spending money on criminalizing it.

Violent crime is reduced when drug dealers don't have control of the market. In countries where the sale of cannabis has been de facto legalized, drug abuse and violent crime is lower than in comparable prohibitionist countries, including the U.S. Measure Z allows police to focus time and energy on violent crime instead of small time marijuana users.

The population of marijuana prisoners remains 1,500 percent higher than 25 years ago, and the U.S. just set a new record for marijuana arrests in 2003. Oakland should no longer accept a drug policy that violates civil rights, wastes critical tax dollars, and unjustly jails and discriminates against people of color.

Measure Z offers a sensible alternative to a failed policy. On Tuesday, cast your ballot for change and common sense, vote "yes" on Measure Z.

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