A report released in October of last year by the Human Rights Watch and the ACLU found there are currently more arrests made for drug possession than any other crime, leading to more arrests for marijuana possession than all violent crimes combined. Being charged, tried and convicted of marijuana possession carries a stigma, and perpetuates the cycle of poverty in communities made predominantly of people of color. Thankfully there are those that have acknowledged a need for assistance, and have taken steps to remedy the damage the War on Drugs has caused.
The Puff Puff Give Foundation, based out of New York, is a great example of one such organization. They have launched a pro-bono criminal record expungement program, helping those charged with nonviolent marijuana offenses. Co-Founder Lucie Ling asserted that “[i]t is important––for both the individuals and society at large––that we provide assistance and support for those looking to be a productive part of society.”
Clean Slate, is partnered with Portland-based law firm Green Light Law Group. The organization is still in its infancy, and is currently taking applications from those who want to benefit from the program. Clean Slate is a first-come, first-serve process, but the Oregon program has been inundated with applicants who live or were charged outside of Oregon. Unable to help the copious amounts of people applying from out of state, the program is in the process of expanding to California, Colorado and Nevada. Until then, Oregon’s citizens will be the only ones that can benefit from their services.
The War on Drugs leads to more than 1.25 million arrests each year. The Clean Slate program will certainly continue to have an excess of applicants. Many states, however, have come to realize the absurdity in criminalizing marijuana, and classifying it in the same caliber as heroin. Yet the stigma still remains. If we look at the facts, there is not one reported death due to a marijuana overdose. However, since the War on Drugs began, there have been many deaths that can be attributed to the enforcement of laws surrounding marijuana. It’s no secret that American police have been under scrutiny for aggressive and lethal force, and their brutality has led to the deaths of many citizens.
According to Tess Borden of Human Rights Watch, “[r]ates of drug use are not down. Drug dependency has not stopped. Every 25 seconds, we’re arresting someone for drug use.” These statements are backed by federal figures. In a nutshell, the War on Drugs has been a colossal failure.
Although the War on Drugs has not been successful in curbing drug use or abuse, it has been vigorous in its arrests. According to the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, 137,000 people are living in a jail cell on any given day for simple drug-possession charges, which has led to mass incarceration of predominantly lower class minority groups. Graham Boyd of the ACLU went as far as to call the War on Drugs “The New Jim Crow.” Boyd details how “Jim Crow pretended that separate but equal treatment sufficed, even as blacks faced daily lynchings and every form of overt discrimination. The drug war claims morality and protection of children as its goals, while turning a blind eye to the racial injustice it promotes.”
Part of the injustice Boyd refers to is the disparity in incarceration and imprisonment rates of African-Americans, compared to their white counterparts. White and black Americans use drugs at similar rates, and there are five times as many white people in the United States than black—yet African Americans are imprisoned at a rate 13.4 times that of their white counterparts, and in some states make up 90 percent of drug prisoners. To put things into perspective, Boyd pointed out that “we have managed to replicate—at least on a statistical level—the shame of chattel slavery in this country: The number of black men in prison (792,000) has already equaled the number of men enslaved in 1820.”
Looking at these statistics, it’s easy to see why a program like Clean Slate is such a wonderful opportunity for the scores of people affected by the War on Drugs. This program will create a springboard for opportunity and change in many of the families and communities that need it most. With the current political climate largely targeting people of color, coupled with polarizing American ideals, Clean Slate reminds us that we are all human, and that everyone deserves a second chance.