It was the dawning hours, Obama was inching ever closer to victory, but as the UK slept, ready and waiting to see who 'leader of the free world' was going to be, there were many pairs of British eyes who were paying close attention to other ballots and initiatives.
On the US election night, there were a host of unprecedented referendums that included three states proposing full-blown reform and regulation of their marijuana laws, in essence, and to use the shorthand, marijuana would be legalised. Those who follow drug policy held their collective breath (if they were awake to see it) as the results poured in from Washington, Oregon and Colorado.
For months prior to the ballots, the battle of words raged between proponents, exponents, and opponents, but when the smoke cleared (languid pun intended) the uncharted initiatives were passed in Washington and Colorado, with the Oregon ballot narrowly defeated. That same night, Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids also decriminalised marijuana possession. There were also new additions to the United State's cannabis clemency with Massachusetts voting yes to medical marijuana. For a full run down of all measures, see the LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) blog.
You'd be forgiven in thinking that the only ones celebrating these truly historic measures are that of the cannabis user, but the reforms are based on a solid footing: integral to the YES campaign has been the former law enforcement figures who have actively seen the compounded harms of a punitive drug policy. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) have been tirelessly trying to convey a differing perspective of reform. LEAP, an eminent organisation comprised of serving and former police personnel, judges, intelligence officers, are hard to ignore. Norm Stamper, former Seattle Police Chief, had this to say on the passing of Washington's new measures:
"I cannot tell you how happy I am that after forty years of the racist, destructive exercise in futility that is the war on drugs, my home state of Washington has now put us on a different path. There are people who have lost today: drug cartels, street gangs, those who profit from keeping American incarceration rates the highest in the world. For the rest of us, however, this is a win. It's a win for taxpayers. It's a win for police. It's a win for all those who care about social justice."
Neill Franklin, Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and 34-year veteran of the Baltimore and Maryland State police departments was also poignant in his measured tone:
"Because of the victories in all of these places, we awakened this morning in a slightly better country. It's a little safer, a little bit more just. And when the rest of the country follows the lead pioneered by the voters of Colorado and Washington, we'll be closer to living in a country with a drug policy that is truly about public safety."
As Neill Franklin outlines, the overlooked, virulent aspects of what prohibitive and punitive drug policy means in a society is certainly an area that is increasingly becoming the breaking point for current drug strategies - societal costs are certainly a catalyst in the momentous reformations that we have witnessed in Washington and Colorado. With such notable success in projecting the message from senior law enforcement figures, LEAP are set to launch a full UK branch of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition in 2013. LEAP UK is comprised of:
Rowan Bosworth-Davies - Retired Detective at New Scotland Yard
James Duffy - Retired Police Inspector & former Chairman of Strathclyde Police Federation
Paul Whitehouse - Retired Chief Constable
Francis Wilkinson - Retired Chief Constable
Annie Machon, Director of LEAP Europe and former Mi5 officer
The UK is certainly not exempt from the fabled 'unintended consequences' of drug policy. The highly divisive 'Stop & Search' powers have reached an epidemic level and are often cited as a reason for severe disharmony between civilians and the police, so much so there is now a proposed boycott from black police personnel. The charity, Release, has also noted an alarming trend in racial disparity in the current application of stop & search and are currently undertaking a survey which can be found here: Link to Release's Survey.
The UK certainly now looks to Colorado and Washington in how regulatory models could look. Transform Drug Policy Foundation's highly acclaimed Blueprint for Regulation is certainly looking like a instruction manual at this poised time. So, as we view Washington and Colorado from an historic height, the world is set to learn, watch and glean insightful information from this pioneering perspective - perhaps the biggest victory is the fact we can have some transparency in facts and figures, this could well prove to be invaluable.
There were many campaign groups who have carved out this new path in progressive drug policy, but the last words have to go to two people who were at the spearhead of the notable U.S. campaigns. Shaleen Title, board member of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), and board member of the innovative viral website Marijuana Majority had this to say:
"Eighty years ago, Colorado made history by ending alcohol prohibition and setting an example for other states and the federal government; we just did it again with marijuana prohibition. The people of Colorado have made it overwhelmingly clear where their priorities are: keeping our communities safe and fixing our schools. Arresting thousands of people for marijuana possession each year is an outdated practice that history will find hard to understand."
Shaleen couldn't show her gratitude or praise the SSDP enough for "the incredible amount of work they did doing outreach on college campuses and calling about 20,000 voters. Thank you!"
"To put this into historical context, there is no historical context. It's the first time any state has ever voted to legalize marijuana -- and two of them did it."