US drug czar John Walters brought a high-level team of prohibitionists to Boston Wednesday to enlist New England governors' increased support in the war on drugs. While the presentation inside was predictable, the presence of demonstrators outside the summit let participants know that resistance to drug war without end is increasing.
Organized by the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts, Massachusetts NORML affiliate MassCann (http://www.masscann.org), and the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org), more than two dozen people gathered at Faneuil Hall for a 9:00am press conference outside the building and subsequent picketing. Focused primarily on the medical marijuana issue, demonstrators carried signs reading, "It is evil to deny sick people medical marijuana," and chanted "Medical marijuana now!" as they handed out informational pamphlets to tourists, businesspeople and workers at Quincy Market, MassCann reported.
Tandy, Walters and crew blamed the region's high rate of heroin use on insidious dealers using gaily painted bags and free samples to entice young users, but Tandy herself inadvertently pointed to the fundamental reason for the incontrovertible signs of increasing heroin use. "In Boston, you can buy what used to be a $40 bag for $4," she said noted, failing to draw the obvious conclusion that three-plus decades of war on drugs hadn't worked.
If Tandy didn't get it, there were signs that at least one of the governors did. Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, once known as a hard-nosed drug warrior, criticized the emphasis on law enforcement. "I believe we can't put a dent in supply," Rowland said. "The drugs are here because the demand is here. There are six million people who need treatment while only one million are getting treatment. We're debating nickels and dimes for American people who are dying, while we spend $87 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq."
Still, like the other governors, Rowland wasn't about to turn down any federal money. And Walters, Tandy and company were happy to oblige by announcing the formation of a new, DEA-led task force to attack heroin use in the region. But even Walters found himself forced to urge prevention and treatment and not just law enforcement. "If we want to reduce the number of people in prison, we have to stop young people from starting," Walters said, making sure the governors knew the administration had allocated $200 million for treatment this year.
He also had another prevention idea: random drug testing for high school students. Although the Supreme Court has approved only limited drug testing of students, Walters was ready to take it to the next level. "This is a silver bullet," Walters told the governors. "I know this is a tool that will make a difference."
"It was pretty disappointing," said Fatema Gunja, newly-hired executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts (the organization's first full-time staff person), who attended the sessions. "Heroin was the main angle, and while medical marijuana was on the agenda, they didn't really engage in any kind of debate or discussion about it," she told DRCNet. "One panelist [Billy Martin] went so far as to concede marijuana might have some medical value, but then said it wasn't worth spending the money to find out. Neither did the governors seem very interested. Only Massachusetts Gov. Romney even really asked about it -- he asked why it hadn't been studied more."
"It was more fun outside," laughed Gunja, referring to the protest. "It was interesting to see Walters and Tandy and the usual suspects do their rhetoric in person, but outside with the patients and the activists was better. The big media was all inside, but the local press was very interested in our stories and point of view."
May the drug czar receive a similarly warm reception wherever he goes.