Editorial: Expanding the Chorus 12/20/02

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David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 12/20/02

One of the early inspirations for DRCNet's work was Joycelyn Elders, the former US Surgeon General who in late 1993, just as DRCNet was starting up, suggested studying drug legalization. Dr. Elders, responding with characteristic candor to a question posed at a press event, said she believed legalization would reduce crime, but wasn't sure what the overall ramifications would be (http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1993/12-18-1.html). I'm not sure how many subscribers we had at the time -- maybe twenty?

Dr. Elders has been busy on the drug reform scene as of late -- speaking at the Marijuana Policy Project/Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference in Anaheim last month; speaking at the Harm Reduction Coalition conference in Seattle this month; penning an introduction to "Health Emergency 2003," a report on drug injection-related AIDS and HIV by the Dogwood Center; authoring an editorial in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper praising Canada's move toward liberalizing marijuana laws and rebuking our misguided US drug czar, John Walters, for opposing it.

I first heard Dr. Elders speak in person at the 1995 conference of the Drug Policy Foundation. Elders recounted "the day it rained" on her -- the predictable chorus of boos and rhetorical tomatoes thrown by politicians and private sector drug warriors in a defensive, knee-jerk reaction to her rational call for dialogue. But Elders also recounted something very interesting -- the reactions politicians gave her in private. Senators and other political luminati would come up to her in airports and around Washington to tell her that she was right, but they couldn't say so publicly because of politics.

Maybe one of them was Indiana Congressman and inveterate drug warrior Dan Burton. Feelings toward Burton in the drug reform community have for the most part been, well, not warm and fuzzy. But last week Burton surprised us at his last committee hearing with an eloquent analysis that could have come from the mouth of a drug reformer. Though stopping just short of calling for legalization, he pointedly left the possibility open: Responding to a drug warrior whose broke in asking if he was calling for complete legalization, Burton answered "No, I am not arguing anything. I am asking the question," adding "I don't think that Al Capone would have been the menace to society that he was if he couldn't sell alcohol on the black market."

It's hard to know for certain in the drug issue what our opponents or our partial partners are really thinking. This week, one sixth of the European Parliament came out publicly for ending drug prohibition. Does that mean the other five-sixths are opposed? Probably not.

Our task as anti-prohibitionists at this juncture is to alter the perception of the issue to the point where those opinion leaders within and without the political power structure who silently agree with us feel ready to voice those views publicly. Every time a Joycelyn Elders or a Gary Johnson or a Dan Burton speaks out, it becomes slightly easier, slightly more compelling for the next one. And it is voices like these that hold the power to gradually transform public opinion over time.

Eventually the chorus of legalization voices will reach a decibel where dramatic shifts in views and politics in the drug issue will become inevitable. Our time is arriving fast.

-- END --
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Issue #268, 12/20/02 Special Offer Continues -- DRCNet Needs Your Help! | Editorial: Expanding the Chorus | 108 Euro-Parliamentarians Call for Legal, Regulated Drug Trade, Reform of UN Conventions | Congressional Drug Warrior Having Doubts: Dan Burton's Near Epiphany | Michigan Legislature Repeals Mandatory Minimum Drug Laws | Canadian Marijuana Activists Skeptical on Decrim | Canadian Supreme Court Postpones Marijuana Cases, Cites Parliament Report, Justice Minister Statement on Decrim | DRCNet Book Review: "Busted: Stone Cowboys, Narco-Lords, and Washington's War on Drugs" | And the Winners Are | Federal Judge Shows Keen Interest in Raich/Monson Medical Marijuana Case | Bolivia Coca Growers Announce Blockades for January 6 -- Will Continue Dialogue | DC Measure 62 Clears Hurdle, Goes to Congress 268/jeffjones Newsbrief: Oakland Cannabis Co-op Director Founded Guilty on Federal Jury Tampering Charges, Handed Out Flyer at Epis Trial | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cop Story | Newsbrief: Stop the Presses! Poor, Blacks Face Brunt of Houston Drug War | Newsbrief: Texas ACLU Report Slams Task Forces, Calls for End to $200 Million Annual Boondoogle | Newsbrief: MPP Continues "War on Drug Czar" -- More Complaints to be Filed, O'Reilly Appearance Tonight | Newsbrief: Budget Cuts Free Kentucky Drug Prisoners -- Oklahoma Next? | Newsbrief: Nickelodeon Censors Beverly Hillbillies Marijuana References | Newsbrief: Asset Forfeiture Unconstitutional in New Jersey | Media Scan: Joycelyn Elders in Globe and Mail, George McMahon in Fort Worth Weekly, Jeff and Tracy, Santa Fe New Mexican, Medscape | DC Job Opportunities at DRCNet | Action Alerts: Rave Bill, Medical Marijuana, Higher Education Act Drug Provision, Tulia, Salvia Divinorum | The Reformer's Calendar

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