|Drug War Chronicle:
There are already a number of drug reform groups or political organizations
out there, nationally and even in Colorado. Why the need for another
Robert Rapplean: We
wanted an organization that specifically focuses on teachers and parents.
For one reason or another, we couldn't get much support from other local
organizations. I've actually hooked-up with most of the reform groups
in Colorado at one time or another, and while some people are doing good
work, others seem to be in it because it's cool or for some form of self-aggrandizement.
So instead of attempting to get another group to share our vision, which
I've found virtually impossible, we created this group. We've been
planning this for a couple of years, although, naturally, we didn't hear
about Teachers Against Prohibition [since renamed Educators for Sensible
Drug Policy, still at http://www.teachersagainstprohibition.org
on the web], until after we had our first meeting.
Chronicle: What does
Rapplean: We just had
our first meeting last month, so we are just getting off the ground.
We had about 20 people show up -- some educators, some parents, some merely
concerned citizens -- and they were all very enthusiastic about PERDL's
mission. What we aim to do is create educational materials that we
can use in presentations to educator and parent groups to show them clearly
and simply that if they want to save the children, the war on drugs is
something to save them from. The presentation is the key, of course;
you have to provide the information in a compact and comprehensible manner.
Ours has been put together by a couple of the best education professionals
in the Denver area. But we continue to fine-tune it. We recently
gave the presentation to a group of people capable of intelligent criticism
and are adjusting as necessary.
Right now, we are generating
interest on a word of mouth basis, but one of the things we will address
at our next meeting [set for October 29] is the issue of how to bring this
up and get it presented and convince people they should come see it.
We will be producing brochures we will leave at libraries and other public
places, we will staff booths at various festivals. We will go to
the PTAs or to any group at all that will take the hour necessary to hear
our presentation. And we have a web site, where we are accumulating
information from a multitude of sources and putting that data in a format
parents and teachers can easily use to find specific pieces of information
supporting our arguments. Our plan is essentially to expand our organization
to the point we can provide more and more effective tools, because we believe
this is a battle of education. We think if people realize what they
are doing with the war on drugs, they'll stop doing it.
Chronicle: What sort
of arguments do you make in your presentation?
Rapplean: Our presentation
gives a basic lesson in economics at a level that your typical parent can
understand. Then it explains that it order for the war on drugs to
succeed, you have to either stop production, stop demand, or prevent the
flow of drugs from producer to user. We present evidence and arguments
to show why the war on drugs is not effective in any of those three cases.
Then we do a listing and synopsis of all the horrible consequences that
the war on drugs causes, and compare that to the harms done by drugs themselves.
This is an effective way of conveying to parents and teachers that the
evils caused by the drug war are considerably worse than those caused by
Then we suggest an alternative.
What PERDL is calling for is not complete legalization, but changing the
laws so that instead of having completely prohibited substances, we have
substances that are reasonably regulated. Drugs should be kept out
of the hands of children, and unlike current policies, which encourage
the involvement of children in the drug trade, regulation would do that.
Drugs should be taxed, and the revenues generated used to pay the social
costs they create. And people who want to use dangerous drugs like
heroin or PCP should have to complete an educational course before being
allowed to purchase them.
Chronicle: Is PERDL
a national organization?
Rapplean: Not now.
We can canvas support most effectively around Denver because that's where
we physically are, but our idea isn't geographically specific. It
can be used anywhere. We would like to expand, we would like to find
people in other cities who are capable of doing this work, but before we
concentrate on expanding nationally, I think we need to demonstrate some
success locally. How do we measure that? I'm not sure yet,
getting people to not just listen to but act on our presentations would
be a measure. If we can get 2,000 people to surround the capitol
building in Denver and yell "No more drug war!" for half an hour, we might
begin to get the idea across. But to really be successful, we will
have to show we can use our membership list to coordinate letter-writing
campaigns, to be able to encourage people to vote in one direction or another.
Chronicle: How does
PERDL support itself?
Rapplean: Out of our
own pockets. Once we get a stable core group, we may start charging
memberships, but this is an operation with a minimal budget. Our
workers are all volunteers, and our actual out-of-pocket expenses have
run about $400 for an overhead projector and slides. I'm a software
engineer who works at home, and I have the technical expertise to produce
this. We will use free public spaces for our presentations.
We will eventually seek grants or other funding, but we need to become
a more established group first. We want to have existing successes
to show potential funders. Once we have the talent to do a video
of the presentation, we can copy it to a hundred cassettes and start sending
them to people for use elsewhere. And I'm working on a flash presentation
for the web. We want to get our message out in as many formats as
possible to hit the broadest possible audience. And once we start
getting any sort of national publicity -- and we think if someone starts
converting parents and teachers to the cause of drug reform, that's news
-- then we will be able to start hitting up big names like Woody Harrelson
and Katherine Zeta Jones. She and her husband are both conscious
of this issue, and they have children.
Chronicle: How did
you get involved in this issue?
Rapplean: My brother
was arrested for drug possession when I was 12, and it completely ruined
his life. He spent three teenage years in various juvenile detention
facilities, and that was ruinous. For more than 20 years now, I've
essentially been doing examinations of social and political structures.
I've researched government data, and the Internet certainly makes that
easier. I've been looking at what we're doing, why we're doing it,
and why we should stop doing it. What I see as a key element is the
overall dishonesty that pervades the war on drugs. Just as parents
and educators are a key target for all that dishonesty from the government,
so they are a key target for us.