David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 7/25/03
One of the questions I'm asked most frequently, by old friends and new acquaintances alike, is "how are things going in the war against the war on drugs?"
The answer is complicated. In some ways things are going badly: half a million nonviolent drug offenders; escalating drug war in the Andes; mandatory minimum sentencing reappearing where we thought it was gone; medical marijuana clinics raided by federal strong-men; drug testing in schools; countless outrages in communities and nations around the world.
But if the political currents of the day are against us, I tell them, the undercurrents are moving in our direction. There is a world of difference between the situation of 10 years ago when DRCNet was founded (yes, our 10th anniversary is approaching) and the dialogue on prohibition and the drug war today. We are still losing, yes, but we are losing less badly.
In 1998, for example, there were zero governors of states who would talk seriously about drug legalization. In 1999, there were two -- Gary Johnson of New Mexico, who took on the issue as a crusade -- and Jesse Ventura of Minnesota, though with less focus on it than Johnson. Numerous ballot initiatives enacting various levels and aspects of drug policy reform have passed in states around the country, many more victories than losses despite last November's setbacks. Entire new movements within the drug reform movement, such as Students for Sensible Drug Policy, have risen to prominence and are making waves in ways that would have seemed surreal a decade or more ago.
The tone of conversation and dialogue has shifted in ways proving that attitudes on drug policy are changing, slowly and gradually yet unmistakably. People today are much less likely to assume a drug reformer thinks everyone should use drugs; and are much more likely to bring up the medical marijuana votes or how New York is trying to get rid of the Rockefeller Drug Laws and what a waste of money the drug war is. They might not agree with legalization -- or they might -- but they understand that what we're doing now is not working. And they're much more willing to consider alternatives and think about what we have to say.
And in some ways the fight is starting to get close. This week, a vote in the full House of Representatives fell only a small handful of votes short of significantly cutting back funding for the drug war in Colombia -- close enough to imagine our side winning the next one, something that would have seemed a mere pipe dream several years ago to those less optimistic than myself -- and this despite hard lobbying by George Bush and Colin Powell on the other side.
It is only realistic to acknowledge that there are enormous political forces arrayed against us and that the laws and policies in place in the United States are atrocious. But the shift in attitudes and in the balance of power of drug politics is also real, and one need only know where to look to see that.
Follow the undercurrents. They are flowing toward the future.