Editorial: Think Globally, Act Locally 6/27/03

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David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 6/27/03

As this issue's "This Week in History" feature notes, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, founded in 1930, was unaffected by the repeal of Prohibition three years later. The end of alcohol prohibition was an incredible historic event representing a massive rollback of government power, very much against the trend of the 20th century. But it was also a much simpler matter than what we are facing today in the campaign against drug prohibition.

Unlike alcohol prohibition, which was statutorily fairly simple and primarily a US phenomenon, drug prohibition is a many-tentacled beast reaching into virtually all areas of policy and which is bound around the globe to a complex web of laws and treaties that affect more than just recreational drugs. A large and well-monied range of special interests feed off the drug war's enforcement and related policies, at all levels of government, in most if not all departments of those governments, as well as private sector institutions promoted and subsidized by Congress, and in all countries.

Just keeping track of every drug war attack on our freedoms and fellow human beings is a dizzyingly difficult endeavor. There are literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of ways politicians, drug-fighters and bureaucrats can ramp up drug war oppression, and equally many directions from which their attacks can come, all of which require energy and attention if they are to be stopped:

  • A farmer has to team up with the ACLU and sue his town, suffering personal and economic retaliation, to protect his son and others from school drug testing, as recounted in next week's PBS documentary.
  • Hemp food producers and their advocates have to file court papers in an ongoing battle to stop the DEA from shutting their legal industry.
  • An incoming DEA administrator promises "information sharing," not only with other law enforcement agencies, but with the private sector. What ominous civil liberties questions does that raise, particularly given the notorious dishonesty or poor judgment of many DEA agents and officials?


The popular activist expression, "think globally, act locally," applies well to our issue, but in two different ways. One way is to engage the drug issue in our nations, states and localities, to talk to politicians and officials in Congress and at the UN, but also with our city council members and our school boards and with our teachers and friends and neighbors. The other way is to take on the partial but important issues making up the many corners of drug policy -- drug testing, hemp, Andean crop spraying, sentencing, financial aid, forfeiture, medical marijuana, syringe availability, the list goes on -- but not neglect the overarching need, the philosophy and cause and moral and practical imperative for cutting off those tentacles at their root and making the world a safer, kinder, healthier, more just place -- ending prohibition. And both these meanings must be brought together.

The discussion in Cartagena last week did bring them together. As cocaleros and their supporters called for, we must make "peace with coca" and other plants. But as Dutch researcher Peter Cohen noted, we must also make "peace with the powder" -- prohibition itself must end, not just for coca or marijuana, but for drugs across the board, even the drugs that sometimes cause harm. Stopping the war against the coca growers requires cooperation among activists and officials in the producing nations of the Andes, but it also needs the work of advocates and supporters here in the US, where the lion's share of the international pressure causing the eradication campaigns and other repressive measures originates. And ending prohibition of drugs itself, not only the campaigns against plants like coca and hemp that can also serve as food and for other uses, will ultimately need to include a global component of many countries deciding together to restructure their policies and to amend or withdraw from international treaties. And advocacy toward that objective is a complex task to be pursued within the international halls of power at the UN but also in the political systems in capitols around the world.

But as complicated and huge and daunting is the task, that doesn't mean it can't be done. As large and diverse are the forces arrayed against us, much greater nevertheless are the human need compelling us to work for our cause, and the powerful truths that we speak. We need not achieve the impossible goal of matching the power of the drug war in its execution; we need only speak out and organize in the right ways, at the right times, to set larger forces in motion everywhere that will change the world. Though injustice and intrusion pervade our laws and courts, in the end the court of public opinion will turn our way and speak a new law.

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Issue #293, 6/27/03

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