Former surgeon, Dr. Malik Burnett has joined Drug Policy Alliance as a full-time organizer in the District of Columbia. Burnett, a policy manager based in DPA’s Office of National Affairs in Washington, DC, will prioritize building support for Initiative 71, the taxation and regulation of marijuana through the D.C. Council and other drug policy reform initiatives that will advance social and racial justice in the nation’s capital.
In addition to his work on Initiative 71, Burnett will work on developing policy to rehabilitate the damage which the war on drugs has caused on communities of color, including eliminating criminal records for individuals convicted of drug possession, expanding access to health care services for the poor and formerly incarcerated, building support for the decriminalization of all drugs, and laying the ground work for broader drug policy reform in the nation’s capital.
“Marijuana policy reform is part of the emerging picture of civil rights reform in the 21st Century,” said Burnett. “The District of Columbia has historically been a leader in enacting progressive policies, and the legalization of marijuana will go a long way towards reframing drug policy around a public health framework.”
Burnett is originally from Montego Bay, Jamaica by way of Atlanta, GA. As a physician advocate, Burnett recently served as the executive director of a medical marijuana non-profit organization after completing a surgical internship at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine. His passion for drug policy is rooted in eliminating the racial disparities which exist in enforcement practices, in addition to the increasing cost effectiveness of drug policy by moving from a criminal justice to a public health framework.
He attended Duke University, where he completed a five-year joint M.D. and M.B.A. program Duke’s School of Medicine and the Fuqua School of Business, and completed a Bachelors of Science in Psychology. Currently, he serves on the Duke University Board of Trustees, and as a graduate student served on the Student National Medical Association’s National Health Policy and Legislative Action Committee and as an Health Fellow to the Aspen Health Forum. He is also an Eagle Scout with the Boy Scouts of America.
Drug Policy Action, the 501(c)(4) political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, is supporting signature gathering efforts for the placement of Initiative 71 on the ballot for the general election in the District of Columbia this November. Initiative 71 allows residents of the District of Columbia to possess up to two ounces of marijuana without fear of arrest or citation; to grow three mature and three immature marijuana plants in the safety and privacy of their homes; and finally to give their marijuana to other adults, but residents will not be permitted to sell their marijuana to anyone.
Given the limited scope of ballot initiatives in their ability to affect the appropriations of the District, Burnett will work with the Councilmembers in the District to create a taxation and regulatory framework for marijuana. Councilmember David Grosso, has already introduced legislation that would tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol to the Council.
“The city council has done tremendous work to reduce the collateral consequences of marijuana possession through decriminalization,” Burnett said. “We look forward to continuing our work with the council to regulate the supply side of this equation in order to provide safe access to public.”
A poll conducted in April 2013 by Public Policy Polling, and commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, found three out of four D.C. voters support changing District law to replace criminal penalties for possession of limited amounts of marijuana with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket. Furthermore, more than 60 percent of D.C. voters in the survey would support a ballot measure similar to those approved by voters in Colorado and Washington in November, which made marijuana legal for adults and directed state officials to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol. A poll conducted in January by the Washington Post found 63 percent of D.C. residents in support of not just decriminalizing marijuana, but also taxing and regulating it like alcohol. Recent national surveys by Gallup, Pew Research Center, CNN/ORC, CBS News and other outlets found a majority of Americans support legally regulating the production and sale of marijuana.