May 6th, 2016
Approaching Mother’s Day, I feel overwhelmed as I reflect on the awesome and daunting role of motherhood. I first became a mom 45 years ago. When I held my beautiful first-born son, I was struck with the magnitude of the miracle of life and realized that my own life had been irrevocably changed. Years later—in 1990, when my older son was incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses—my role was transformed again. He spent the next decade cycling through the criminal justice system.
My two sons are beautiful and bright, and they are both recovering from heroin addiction. Our family has experienced the pain of watching our children’s health and happiness compromised both by their addictions and by an angry and punitive criminal justice system focused on retribution, not restoration. My sons are survivors of both incarceration and accidental overdose, and our family bears the scars of stigma and prejudice. But we are not defeated. Together we are speaking out, with first-hand experience, for compassionate, healing drug policies.
Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs, which began the year that my first son was born, has wreaked havoc on families because it isn’t really a war against drugs. It is a war waged against people—one that has stealthily eaten away at the fabric of our lives. I weep for the countless families torn apart by drug policies that lock up fathers and remove children from their mothers. These policies are discriminatory, as well as destructive: Although marijuana use occurs roughly equally in all communities, African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately affected by criminalization, and arrested at rates up to eight times that of whites.
Here in California, instead of actually addressing our loved ones’ problems, the state spends $49,000 annually per inmate to incarcerate them, often for nothing more than simple possession. Over half of all drug arrests in 2010 were for a marijuana violation. And thanks in large part to the drug war, one in 32 American adults is currently incarcerated, on parole or probation, or under some other form of state or local supervision.
And they are never forgiven. When they come home, they face life-long exclusions, including the permanent loss of educational and employment opportunities, as well as public housing, food stamps and, in many states, the right to vote.
California’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), on the ballot for November, will allow responsible adults to legally use marijuana, while providing strong safeguards to protect children. AUMA includes a strict ban on marijuana advertising targeting minors; it provides funding for a public education campaign to emphasize that marijuana remains illegal for anyone under 21; it accelerates funding for research (including effects on minors); and it mandates one of the toughest, most explicit warning labels in the industry.
Compare that to the black market, which is free of government regulation, includes no quality controls and doesn’t ask for an ID; a drug dealer doesn’t care how old their customers are, only that they can pay.
The drug war not only destroys the lives and liberties in the US, but has ignited appalling violence and corruption in Mexico, which has seen over 60,000 drug war fatalities the past few years, while vicious cartels rake in billions of dollars.
Moms United to End the War on Drugs is a growing movement to stop the violence, mass incarceration and deaths that result from punitive and discriminatory drug policies. We advocate for therapeutic drug policies that reduce the harms both of drugs and of current drug laws. As a founder of Moms United, I support AUMA as a way to protect the children of California.
Gretchen Burns Bergman is co-founder and executive director of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing) and lead organizer of PATH’s Moms United to End the War on Drugs national campaign.