Drug Policy Researchers To March For Science On Earth Day

By Kelly Burch 04/20/17

The Drug Policy Alliance scientists are hitting the streets to push for a major shift in drug policy on Saturday, April 22. 

Scientists and environmentalists rally for science in Boston back in February.
Scientists and environmentalists rally for science in Boston back in February. Photo via YouTube

Ahead of the upcoming March for Science that will be taking place across the country this Saturday, scientists at the Drug Policy Alliance are sharing why they will be marching: in favor of scientific approaches to better understand the effects of drugs, “wielding facts and compassion in the face of ignorance and hatred.”

The Drug Policy Alliance is an organization that advocates for “promoting drug policies that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.”

In an essay on the organization’s website, Jules Netherland, director of the Office of Academic Engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance, and Sheila Vakharia, an assistant professor at Long Island University, say that drug policy is in need of a fundamental shift. 

“American drug policies have a problem—they’ve been driven by fear rather than facts for over a century,” they write. 

That issue began in the early enforcement of drug laws that unfairly targeted minorities. 

“From the first opium laws in the 1800’s targeting Chinese immigrants to the crack laws of the 1980’s which disproportionately criminalized and incarcerated black men, the history of drug policy in the US illustrates how racism, xenophobia, and stigma can be weaponized in the name of ‘public health’ and ‘safety,’” Netherland and Vakharia write. 

One vital issue that must be reconsidered is the prohibition of drugs. “The evidence suggests that drug prohibition has actually contributed to poorer health outcomes and higher mortality rates among drug users, while also facilitating the growth of an illicit drug market which threatens the safety and well-being of people around the globe,” they write. 

Prohibition, which also limits research, particularly on Schedule I drugs like marijuana, has contributed to fear-mongering, Netherland and Vakharia say. 

“Drug scare tactics work—they befuddle, confuse, and terrify the public and policymakers alike while justifying an even harsher crackdown on users. Images of face-eating zombies to crack babies are more mobilizing than the reality that the vast majority of people who use drugs never get addicted or the therapeutic benefits of some substances, such as marijuana, are worth exploring.”

Drug policy researchers hope that by examining effective solutions to drug problems, they can effect policy changes that will save lives. However, in order to do that there must be cooperation from lawmakers, and a willingness to change the status quo, Netherland and Vakharia say.

“Drug and drug policy research is a rich, interdisciplinary field that can help us sort the fact from the fiction and, more importantly, help us make smart policy choices that will improve the health and safety of individuals, families, and communities.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.