ACLU Turns From Legalization to Decriminalizing Drug Possession

Now that four states have legalized recreational marijuana, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLUS) plans to turn its focus from legalization to decriminalizing drug possession, according to U.S. News & World Report.

“What the marijuana legalization votes tell us is the door is open to reconsidering all of our drug laws,” said Alison Holcomb, National Director of the ACLU’s new nationwide campaign against “mass incarceration.” The effort will be funded by a $50 million grant from billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

The ACLU hopes to replicate the success of California’s Proposition 47. The measure, approved by 58 percent of state voters last week, lowers penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes. It also allows felony convictions to be retroactively reclassified as misdemeanors, and calls for sentencing reductions for current inmates. “Hopefully we will be able to find states where we can go further and say, ‘Let’s decriminalize the possession of drugs and let’s talk about what we can do to address drug use and abuse,’” Holcomb said.

“When it comes to criminal justice and drug policy, Americans are thinking differently about these issues,” says Lenore Anderson, a co-author of Proposition 47. “The main message for policymakers is some of the old ways of thinking around prison-first policies and using the criminal justice system to deal with something like drug addiction is something the public doesn’t think is wise anymore.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to reduce the base offense for criminals caught with various amounts of drugs. Nonviolent, low-level drug offenders who do not have deep criminal ties would qualify for retroactive sentences. The Commission later voted to apply the reduction in sentencing guidelines applicable to most federal drug trafficking offenders retroactively. This means many offenders currently in prison could be eligible for reduced sentences beginning in November 2015.