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The War on Drugs Destroys Lives—Here Are 6 Things You Can Do About It

The movement to end the violence through the decriminalization of drugs has never had so much momentum. And it's never been easier to get involved.

On Saturday, May 10, the third annual “National Dignity March” converged in Mexico City, with hundreds of marchers having walked for a full month from cities and towns all over Mexico. Most of the marchers had lost family members or friends in drug-trafficking violence.

They were marching for justice in the country’s drug war—calling for the deaths and disappearances to be fully investigated. They also demand that the Mexican government’s response to drug trafficking include economic and public health initiatives rather than military action, which has escalated since 2006. (For more information on the movement’s history and goals, see my in-depth article on this topic.)

It’s not just students and pot-smokers who are in favor of legalization, but a large number of police officers too.

Over the last eight years, the death toll in the Mexican drug war has grown so large it challenges comprehension. More than 100,000 people have been killed or disappeared, according to the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, the organization behind the march.

The poet and activist Javier Sicilia founded the group after his son was murdered by drug traffickers three years ago. The movement collaborates with organizations pushing for drug decriminalization in the United States as a pathway to reducing the violence in Mexico. Washington state and Colorado have both legalized marijuana through ballot initiatives, and many others are poised to follow their lead. Pro-legalization campaigns are underway across the country, from the local to national levels.

Increasingly, business interests also see the drug war as counterproductive and pro-business Forbes magazine joined the legalization chorus two years ago.

Javier Sicilia tells us that the real work to end the drug war is done “at the level of you-and-me, face-to-face.” But where do you start? Here are six actions you can take right now:

1. Take action online.

Join the more than 200,000 individuals who have signed a petition called “End the Drug War in the Americas!” organized by the multi-issue, multilingual, international progressive group Avaaz: The World in Action.

You can also contact your federal representative through the Drug Policy Alliance’s online petition, take the message to your federal legislator with the alliance’s grassroots lobbying toolkit, and spread the word in your community.

2. Get informed, and then inform your friends.

Marijuana legalization and drug decriminalization are emotional issues. Challenge emotion with facts by reading the Open Society Foundation’s summary of public initiatives, the Transnational Institute’s excellent primer on drugs and democracy, the Drug Policy Alliance’s well-organized review of the issues, and a recent Huffington Post article on the finances of prohibition.

3. Watch and share the documentary The House I Live In.

Winner of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, The New York Times calls the film “a model of the ambitious, vitalizing activist work that exists to stir the sleeping to wake.”

The film is available online for streaming. Use the “Community Action” section of the film’s website to find out what’s happening in your area to end the “War on Drugs,” and connect with one of the many organizations working to reform drug laws.

If the U.N. advocates an end to the drug war, national governments  have more incentive to shift their policies.

4. Help drug policy activists reach a wider audience.

Groups like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or Students for a Sensible Drug Policy want to help get the word out. Invite a speaker from one of these groups to your classroom, grassroots group, or neighborhood council to talk about drug legalization and the high costs of prohibition. (It’s not just students and pot-smokers who are in favor of legalization, but a large number of police officers too.)

5. Join the campaign to legalize marijuana in your state , or help start one yourself.

States all over the country have started the process of decriminalization. If you don’t see your state on the list, check the Common Sense for Drug Policy’s Getting Active: What Can I Do? website for tips on how to start a legalization campaign.

6. Support those working for global change.

The United Nations General Assembly will be reviewing its policy on (currently) illicit drugs in 2016. If the U.N. advocates an end to the drug war, national governments around the world have more incentive to shift their policies. You can follow this process at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs blog run by the the London-based organizations International Drug Policy Consortium and YouthRISE.

Ann Fordham of consortium says the most important thing activists can do to support progressive change at the United Nations is to advocate at the local, state, and national levels for a drug policy that focuses on public health, not on prison time.


Wendy Call wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Wendy is a writer, translator, and educator based in Seattle.

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