NAACP Wants to 'End the War on Drugs'


Today the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People approved "A Call to End the War on Drugs." A majority of delegates at the 102nd NAACP Annual Convention in Los Angeles voted for the resolution, which recommends "funding to investigate substance abuse treatment, education, and opportunities in communities of color for a better tomorrow." In a press release that just arrived in my inbox, NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous sums up the message this way:

Today the NAACP has taken a major step towards equity, justice and effective law enforcement. These flawed drug policies that have been mostly enforced in African American communities must be stopped and replaced with evidenced-based practices that address the root causes of drug use and abuse in America. 

Alice Huffman, president of the California State Conference of the NAACP, adds:  

Studies show that all racial groups abuse drugs at similar rates, but the numbers also show that African Americans, Hispanics and other people of color are stopped, searched, arrested, charged, convicted, and sent to prison for drug-related charges at a much higher rate. This dual system of drug law enforcement that serves to keep African-Americans and other minorities under lock and key and in prison must be exposed and eradicated.

Robert Rooks, director of the NAACP Criminal Justice Program, says:

We know that the war on drugs has been a complete failure because in the forty years that we've been waging this war, drug use and abuse has not gone down. The only thing we've accomplished is becoming the world's largest incarcerator, sending people with mental health and addiction issues to prison, and creating a system of racial disparities that rivals Jim Crow policies of the 1960's.

So far, so good, although I'm not quite sure what policy the NAACP is endorsing. Last year the group's California chapter backed Proposition 19, the unsuccessful marijuana legalization initiative, citing the racially disproportionate impact of pot busts. But as far as I know, the national organization has not gone that far. Dating the war on drugs to 40 years ago is not encouraging, since drugs were banned long before the Nixon administration. I suspect the NAACP's idea of ending the war on drugs is more ambitious than the Obama administration's but perhaps less ambitious than the disappointingly timid recommendations of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. An NAACP spokesman tells me "NAACP policy is that we do not share the full text of resolutions," but he offered an interview with Rooks. I'll let you know if I get a clarification.

Update: Rooks says the full text of the resolution will be available after the NAACP's national board approves it in October. He says the resolution supports needle exchange programs, condemns mandatory minimum sentences, and criticizes Byrne law enforcement grants, a program supported by President Obama that has fueled the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders and funded the regional anti-drug task forces behind racially tinged law enforcement scandals in places such as Tulia, Texas. But in general, Rooks says, the resolution "is not a policy document"; instead it outlines "principles and ideas" that should guide "our units" in adopting specific positions. Among those principles: "that those who are arrested for drug offenses not be sent to prison—that's explicit." Rooks says the resolution does not distinguish between users and suppliers in that respect, but neither does it call for legalization. "In terms of decriminalization or legalization," he says, "we did not get into those discussions."