DRCNet Interview: Adam Jones, Teachers Against Prohibition 3/14/03

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Adam Jones, a 21-year-old Education major at Montana State University in Billings, got a rude introduction to US drug policy when he was arrested last year for possession of psilocybin mushrooms. As a result of that arrest and subsequent experiences with the criminal justice system, Jones began to look for ways to challenge prohibitionist orthodoxy. He founded the MSU NORML/SSDP chapter before handing its leadership over to others, and as a teacher-to-be, Jones looked at his own profession and, with the help of others in the drug reform movement, decided to try to bring the struggle for drug reform to the education community. He has become the moving force behind a newly formed group devoted to taking that battle into the ranks of the nation's educators, Teachers Against Prohibition (http://www.teachersagainstprohibition.org). DRCNet spoke with Jones about the group and its goals on Tuesday.

Week Online: What is Teachers Against Prohibition, and what is its mission?

Adam Jones: This is an organization aimed at generating support for drug reform among educators. I have, to a large degree, modeled it after Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (http://www.leap.cc) because I think both groups have much in common. Both organizations are trying to appeal to professions whose members see the results of the drug war on a daily basis, but don't necessarily see that most of the ill effects derive from prohibition itself. We have several goals. We seek to educate the public, the media and policymakers about the failures of current drug policy. We are working to create a speakers' bureau of knowledgeable and articulate educators who can describe the impact of these failed drug policies on things like teacher safety, teacher/community relations, and the human and financial costs of current drug policies. We want to restore students' respect for teachers, respect that has been diminished by their role in imposing and implementing drug prohibition, by participating in programs such as DARE, for example. And our ultimate goal is to reduce drug war harms by ending drug prohibition.

WOL: How did you come up with the idea of Teachers Against Prohibition?

Jones: I was at the SSDP/MPP conference in Anaheim and was talking with Justin Holmes from SSDP SUNY-Broome about teachers and drug policy, and he said, "you'd think there would be an organization." The idea grew from there. I bounced the idea of something like TAP off various people, and I got a lot of good input and support from groups like DrugSense (http://www.drugsense.org); in fact, DrugSense's Richard Lake sits on our board of directors. Also, Nora Callahan of the November Coalition (http://www.november.org) came through town and sat down with me. I have to give her a lot of credit. Lots of people helped. I should also mention Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy (http://www.csdp.org), who contributed as well.

WOL: This is a brand new organization. What kind of start are you off to?

Jones: Our membership drive is just getting underway and we already have 35 members. We've put the word out on every drug policy mailing list we know of, though we haven't done mainstream education lists yet. Still, we're getting new applications by the hour, and we now have members in the US, Canada, and New Zealand. In fact, we have six members from New Zealand, which is something of a surprise.

We are going to try to gain some endorsements before moving into the education mainstream. We will try to get an endorsement from the National Teachers' Association, which has already endorsed alternatives to marijuana prohibition. Then there's the National Education Association; that's more of a long-term project. And drug education and prevention specialist Marsha Rosenbaum (http://www.safety1st.org) has been working with Parent-Teacher Associations. We will try to follow her lead on that.

We have some good people for our speakers' bureau; now it's a matter of getting that up and running, of connecting them with the potential audiences out there, and we're also hoping to engage the legislative process, but that is probably a year or so down the road, after we do this initial membership drive, then learn how to maintain those members and keep them active.

We haven't done any press releases yet or received any real media attention, but one of the members of our board of directors, addiction specialist Patrick Jones, is set to do an interview with the Internet newspaper Sierra Times (http://www.sierratimes.org). It's supposed to be about addiction and kids, but Patrick will get some plugs in for TAP.

WOL: Are there specific areas of drug policy on which you focus? If so, what are they?

Jones: The board of directors has selected three primary agenda items: DARE, drug testing in the schools, and reforming the Higher Education Act (HEA). Right now, we're really focusing on the HEA campaign (http://www.raiseyourvoice.com) because it is so active. We're trying to pair our actions with what SSDP does, trying to coordinate members and speakers with SSDP chapters. We're also trying to provide more faculty advisors for SSDP, campus NORML groups, or other campus-based drug reform groups. With DARE, we view that as a failed program, the research shows it is a failed program, and we're seeing DARE begin to be replaced -- even in Los Angeles, where it was born. DARE doesn't work and it costs a lot of money. Like any other government program that doesn't work, it should be replaced. We believe it should be replaced with reality-based drug education. And we want to see drug testing completely abolished. We think it is counterproductive in the schools and destructive of our constitutional traditions.

WOL: What can you do to combat what seems to be a steady increase in student drug testing in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision?

Jones: Our campaign is only in the beginning stages, but we are taking a firm stance against it. We hope to be able to educate the community about the harms of drug testing, its negative impact. From a student's point of view or a teacher's point of view, there is little positive about drug testing students and then kicking them off of extracurricular activities. It seems counterproductive. We're hoping we can enlist teachers and other educators to explain to school boards and PTAs why they should not adopt drug testing, or abolish it if it has been adopted.

WOL: Who can be a member of TAP?

Jones: People who been granted the authority by state, local or federal government to be teachers, as well as administrators and anyone else involved in the educational process. This includes people at the college and university level as well, and it includes people who are working to become teachers. If you have an Education major, you're welcome to join, and if you're up to the arduous task of grant-writing, all the better.

WOL: You have been arrested and convicted of a drug offense. Are you concerned that your record will damage TAP's credibility?

Jones: I was busted for a half-gram of psilocybin mushrooms. I'm on probation for the next three years. It is something of a worry, but it depends on who I'm trying to appeal to. If I'm talking to someone in drug reform, they'll probably not hold it against me. If I'm talking to a mainstream audience, that could present more of a problem, but it's not something I'll necessarily emphasize. A lot of people, like Nelson Mandela, did time for living and fighting for what they believed in. In being persecuted, they discovered how important it was that they continue to work for what they believe is right. When I was in jail, it really solidified my belief that things needed to be changed. I would like to think there was something positive about that whole experience. Besides, I now have the credibility of my convictions.

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Issue #278, 3/14/03 Federal Judge Refuses to Block Potential Federal Arrests of California Medical Marijuana Patients | No Comment: Antonio Maria Costa, Director-General of UN Office on Drugs and Crime Addresses Swedes on Marijuana | Funding Crunch Hits Drug Reform Movement | DRCNet Interview: Adam Jones, Teachers Against Prohibition | DRCNet Book Review: "Down by the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family," Charles Bowden (2002, Simon & Schuster, $27.00 HB) | Alert: HEA Reform Legislation Re-filed, Needs Your Support | Newsbrief: Mexican Anti-Drug Choppers Shot Down, Five Dead | Newsbrief: Colorado Kiddie Meth Bill Passes, Awaits Governor's Signature | Newsbrief: Colorado Legislators Ponder Plan to Cut Nonviolent Offender, Drug Sentences | Newsbrief: Illinois DA Makes Woman Meth Poster Child | Newsbrief: House Panel Goes After Federal Judge for Being Too Lenient on Drug Offenders | Newsbrief: Who Wants Drug Testing? Not Pennsylvania Cops, Not Colorado Teachers | Newsbrief: New Zealand Moves to Heighten Methamphetamine Penalties -- Life Sentences for Some Offenses | The Reformer's Calendar

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