David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 8/2/02
It's easy in a cause like ending drug prohibition to wonder if it will ever happen. Public support is not high. Politicians respond to the idea with ridicule, and viciously attack their political opponents (or their allies, for that matter) if they do otherwise. Policies are dramatically in the opposite direction, in the US at least; passing even the smallest partial drug policy reforms that almost everyone agrees with often requires an all out tooth and nail fight.
But if the political currents are against us, the undercurrents tell a different story. During the 10 years I've been following this issue and the nine in which I've been actively involved, opposition to the drug war in its current form as well as support for repeal of prohibition outright have both grown substantially. In 1998, for example, there were zero governors of US states who would speak in a serious way about legalization; by 1999, there were two (New Mexico's Gary Johnson and Minnesota's Jesse Ventura). A spate of leaders in other countries, particularly Latin America, have raised their voices, the presidents of Mexico and Uruguay among them. And of course ending prohibition is possible -- drugs were legal at one time, that can be the case again in the future; it's only a matter of when.
Human nature is such that individuals' opinions are influenced strongly by their perceptions of the prevailing viewpoints of others in society, particularly those they respect or with whom they identify. It is not the only factor forming opinion; people certainly do hold their own ideas, sometimes very independently of even their own friends and families. But the perception of the degree of mainstream or credible support that an idea has is one major factor influencing the perception of an issue. Drug legalization is perceived by the average American to be "radical" or unsupported by other average or respectable Americans, and that, in my opinion at least, is the main reason why support for fundamental reform is not yet sufficient to catalyze changes.
The flip side is that the perceived absence of such support is one major reason why it's difficult even for legalization supporters to believe it's possible. But if we can suspend that disbelief, if we can have the courage to take the needed to raise awareness of the consequences of drug prohibition and transform global consciousness on drug policy, our actions can and will bear fruit. And that may happen sooner than anyone would guess while living under the drug war.
The voices of respected opinion leaders are key to effecting that transformation. When governor Johnson came out for legalization, as difficult of a political time as he got for it in his own state, the issue took a step closer to the mainstream. Some minds were changed, and many more were opened to considering the possibility. The same goes for former surgeon general Joycelyn Elders, former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke, the editors of National Review magazine, the editors of the Economist, the many governors and parliamentarians throughout Europe and Latin America and many, many more.
The John Stossel special on ABC throws more fuel on that fire. Large numbers of Americans now are aware that a judge and a priest are for legalization and that a big city police chief is at a minimum against the drug war and maybe more. Cite this fact in your conversations with friends, refer to it in your speeches, buy a copy of the tape (maybe from DRCNet within a few weeks from now) and invite people over to watch it. Sign up for a room in your local library and hold a public viewing. Write a letter to the editor about it. Use the names of these prominent and respected anti-prohibitionists to help win the hearts and minds of the public at large.
Change is possible, if we take the needed steps to get from here to there. And that journey begins with the first step.