David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 8/16/02
This week, DRCNet's The Week Online newsletter reaches its 250th issue. The Week Online began publishing just over five years ago (July 1997). Much has changed during that time, much has stayed the same.
In 1997, there were zero governors of US states who would speak seriously about drug legalization in public. But in 1999, two of them cropped up -- New Mexico's Gary Johnson and Minnesota's Jesse Ventura. Opposition to the drug war in its current form has grown in conservative and progressive circles alike -- from Washington think tanks to the Congressional Black Caucus, awareness of the adverse impact of current anti-drug policies is taking greater and greater prominence in insider discussions and to some extent in policy deliberations. Before 1997, two major drug reform ballot initiatives had been approved by voters -- medical marijuana in California and shifting away from a criminal justice approach in Arizona. By 2002, there have been well over ten.
In 1997, there was no drug provision of the Higher Education Act; federal financial aid for college was based on need, not the presence or absence of past drug offenses. In 1998, that law passed, and by fall 2002 we have seen the law partially implemented for one school year and fully implemented for another -- over 47,000 students lost aid last school year alone. But the intervening years have also seen Students for Sensible Drug Policy spring up in response and grow to over 200 chapters, and have seen support for the Frank repeal bill grow to reach 67 cosponsors -- not enough yet to take it off the books but getting there.
In 1997, Dorothy Gaines and Kemba Smith were in prison, serving 20+ year terms for nothing and next to nothing. By the end of 2000, they and a handful of Americans serving similarly unjust drug sentences were released by the outgoing president. But 2000 also saw Todd McCormick imprisoned and Peter McWilliams dead. Pardons and commutations are better than nothing, but they are not a solution. We have to stop the drug war as a whole.
And stopping it couldn't be more urgent. Between each successive issue of the Week Online, US police forces arrest 28,000 people for nonviolent drug offenses. Each day that goes by is another day that half a million drug offenders languish in our nation's prisons and jails. And all the harms that prohibition worsens or creates -- street crime, hepatitis and HIV, civil war in Colombia, denial of medicine, erosion of civil liberties and human rights, many, many more -- all of these continue to wreak their terrible toll, devastating communities, tearing apart families, ending or ruining lives.
At 23,000 subscribers, DRCNet and this newsletter are making more of an impact than ever. We are advancing drug reform legislation on Capitol Hill, we are forging global coalitions against prohibition, we are empowering the writing and speaking of activists and raising awareness in the media through education, we are steering people to events and activities in their communities where they can be of help. This is all possible because you had the interest and motivation to subscribe, to read and to get involved.
But more is needed. If each of our readers recruited one other person to the list, that 23,000 would turn into 46,000 -- a formidable grassroots assembly indeed. Could it happen? Why not send out a few e-mails to your friends and families and find out.
In the meantime, I hope you will read issue #250 and then go out and talk about drug policy with the unconverted or unrecruited. And if you wish to delve further into the trials and tribulations of the past five years, I hope you'll check out the Week Online archive page at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/archives.html online. I think you'll agree with me when I say that the record shows both pain and hope -- and I hope you'll agree that if the political currents seem to be against us, the undercurrents are definitely moving in our direction. The next five years will be important ones in the struggle against prohibition and the war on drugs -- and that struggle is stronger for your participation in it. Thank you for your support; now on to bigger and better victories!