American Medical Association makes radical drug policy shift 

When it comes to drug policy, the opinions of medical professionals are crucial. Historically, doctors in the U.S. have urged policymakers to tread lightly with regard to legalization. However, a radical shift is in the works.

The American Medical Association, a trade organization representing thousands of physicians and medical students, recently voted to endorse the broad decriminalization of illegal drugs. First reported by MedPage, delegates voted 345-171 in favor of the “elimination of criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use as part of a larger set of related public health and legal reforms designed to improve carefully selected outcomes.”

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The position is far more progressive than the original language the AMA delegates debated, which called for the group to “continue to monitor the legal and public health effects of state and federal policies to reclassify criminal offenses for drug possession for personal use.”

Stephen Taylor, MD, MPH, of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), recommended the new position, arguing, “There is, in fact, evidence that decriminalization can have public health benefits if it is done correctly.”

Delegates pointed to evidence that the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal led to higher rates of in-patient rehabilitation and fewer overdose-related deaths. Concerns over the backtracking of similar drug policy in Oregon were raised, but advocates of the shift argued that the state’s approach was doomed to fail.

“We have tried for decades to criminalize our way out of a substance use crisis in this country, and it has not worked,” said Ryan Englander, a New England delegate. “We need to move to something different and better, something that actually works.”

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Research has shown that imprisonment and fines typically do not deter people from using drugs, nor does it help ease addiction. Instead, advocates believe investment in drug treatment and overdose prevention is a far more effective strategy. 

The AMA previously called for the expungement of marijuana-related criminal records and promoted psychedelic research. This latest vote is another step toward broader acceptance of this approach. Advocates hope policymakers take note of the AMA’s positioning and adopt legislation focused on harm reduction rather than incarceration. 


rachelle gordon

Rachelle Gordon is a cannabis journalist, Emerald Cup judge, Budist critic, and editor of She began her weed writing journey in 2015 and has been featured in High Times, CannabisNow, Beard Bros, MG, Skunk, and many others. Rachelle currently splits her time between Minneapolis and Oakland; her favorite cannabis cultivars include Silver Haze and Tangie. Follow Rachelle on Instagram @rachellethewriter