Skip to main content

Mr. President, fix our broken drug policy

By Joy Strickland, Special to CNN
updated 2:58 PM EST, Wed November 21, 2012
The federal government must adopt a policy of controlled legalization for all drugs, starting with marijuana, says Joy Strickland.
The federal government must adopt a policy of controlled legalization for all drugs, starting with marijuana, says Joy Strickland.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Joy Strickland: My son was killed by teenagers who were drug abusers
  • Strickland: Drug prohibition does not protect our children from drug violence
  • She says marijuana legalization in two states can be catalyst for federal reform
  • Strickland: Our drug policy should focus on public health rather than law enforcement

Editor's note: Joy Strickland, founder and CEO of Mothers Against Teen Violence, is an Op-Ed Project Public Voices Fellow at Texas Woman's University.

(CNN) -- Dear Mr. President:

Congratulations on your hard-fought and historic re-election. The American people have entrusted you with a second term in the Oval Office. As you consider your agenda for the next four years, it is my sincere hope that you will commit some portion of your brilliance and pragmatism to fixing our broken drug policy.

The issue became personal for me when my tall, handsome and gifted 19-year-old son was killed, with a friend, in a random crime by two teenagers who were drug abusers and low-level drug traffickers looking for someone to carjack on June 19, 1993.

Compassion demands that we do everything in our power to protect children from drugs, the ravages of drug dealers, and drug-related crimes. But drug prohibition has the opposite effect, exposing children to turf wars, gang violence, and access to drugs.

Joy Strickland
Joy Strickland

A recent Gallup poll indicates that a record 50% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. But the federal government remains wedded to an outdated, 75-year-old policy that has no hope of ending the drug war.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



In the absence of thoughtful leadership on this issue from Washington, a growing number of states have moved to fill the void. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have approved cannabis for medical use.

But owners, operators and employees of marijuana dispensaries, caught in the conflict between state and federal drug laws, have come under pressure. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, dressed in full riot gear, have made good on threats to raid dispensaries, destroying personal property and livelihoods in the process. No American citizen should be put in this position.

Undaunted, states continue their forward march. In an unprecedented move on Election Day, Colorado and Washington state passed laws representing a brazen challenge to federal prohibition: Both legalized marijuana.

Currently, the penalty gap among states for marijuana possession is far from ideal. In one state, drug possession may be inconsequential, while in another, the consequences could follow you for the rest of your life. An inconsistency of this magnitude is not tenable.

The new laws in Colorado and Washington state could result in an escalation of the drug war, or they can be a catalyst for federal reform.

I'm hoping and praying for the latter.

Americans deserve a drug policy based on science, compassion and equity. Instead, we have a policy that ignores science, increases harm, and is rife with contradictions.

Despite efforts dating back to 1972, marijuana remains on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. Drugs in this category include cocaine, opium, heroin, and other highly addictive, deadly drugs.

Part of the justification for the Schedule 1 classification is the federal government's insistence that marijuana has no medical benefits. But the Department of Health and Human Services obtained U.S. Patent 6630507 for cannabis in 2003. In a stunning contradiction to the Schedule 1 classification, the patent abstract states:

"The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and HIV dementia."

To paraphrase one observer, listing marijuana with Schedule 1 drugs is like including a rubber spatula in a "deadly weapons" category alongside semiautomatic rifles.

Among the privileged, problematic drug use is treated as a health issue. But poor, black, and brown people are far more likely to be arrested and criminalized than given access to treatment.

Americans are 5% of the world's population, and 25% of those incarcerated. Our incarceration rates are the highest in the history of the world, representing a shameful waste of human potential. And the drug war is the vehicle that has brought us to the destination of mass incarceration.

Meanwhile, drug trafficking is a problem of supply and demand. The first step toward drug policy reform should be to determine the effectiveness of current strategies in having a sustainable impact on the supply of or the demand for drugs. Ineffective strategies and programs must be discontinued. We can't afford to continue expensive policies that don't work.

Secondly, we must transform our drug policy from a law enforcement model to a public health approach. This means investing substantially in effective prevention, working with states to encourage harm reduction strategies and making treatment available on demand.

The federal government must adopt a policy of controlled legalization for all drugs, starting with marijuana. Federal legalization would protect our children from drugs in a way that law enforcement can't, eliminate the penalty gap from state to state for drug possession, and mark the beginning of the end to mass incarceration.

On behalf of my family and the millions who have been victimized by the drug war, I urge the president to give this critical issue the time and attention it deserves.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Joy Strickland.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 10:11 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT