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Feature: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Stirs the Waters in Ireland

Retired Florida police chief and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) spokesman Jerry Cameron managed to put the drug debate squarely on the front burner with his appearance in Ireland last week. Cameron's address at the "Rethinking the War on Drugs" conference in Dublin, sponsored by a trio of Irish groups working on prison, drug policy and youth issues sparked numerous newspaper editorials and opinion pieces, filled the airwaves with talk about legalization, and forced the Irish government to respond.

Organized by the Irish Penal Reform Trust, the drug charity Merchant's Quay, and the Union for Improved Services, Communication, and Education (UISCE), a group combining sports and Gaelic language learning, "Rethinking the War on Drugs" brought more than one hundred Irish politicians, government workers, reformers, and activists together on August 28. With Cameron as the keynote speaker, the conference certainly inspired Irish reflection on national drug policy.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/jerrycameron.jpg
Jerry Cameron at the Dublin conference (courtesy IPRT)
That's just what the IPRT wanted, said executive director Rick Lines. "The IPRT doesn't have any formal policy supporting legalization or decriminalization," he told Drug War Chronicle. "However, we do work from an analysis that drug criminalization is a main driver of growing prison populations in Ireland, and is a main cause of high rates of HIV and Hep C infection in prisons. Therefore, examining alternatives to drug criminalization, and alternatives to prison for people who use drugs, must be a central part of the work done by penal reform organizations. I understand that this might make us a bit unusual among our sister organizations internationally. I am often told by people at harm reduction conferences that the prison reform organizations in their countries don't talk about drug laws at all. Whether this is true or not, I am not sure, but I hope it isn't."

For Lines, the conference and the attention it drew were a huge success. "The event was successful beyond all our expectations," he said. "The crowd was much bigger than anticipated -- standing room only -- as was the press coverage. We counted 26 separate TV, radio, and print outlets covering the event, and we may have missed some. As such, the event was a very successful beginning to reframing the debate on this issue, which was all we really hoped to accomplish."

"This was one of the better conferences I've been to," LEAP's Cameron told DRCNet. "The folks from the Irish Penal Reform Trust did a wonderful job of organizing it, and among those attending were a member of parliament and a member of the European Parliament, the immediate past Irish drug minister, several members of the probation system, a representative from the Garda [Irish police] -- it was a real cross-section of people interested in these issues. I have to say that the people from the Irish government were a lot more open-minded than the politicians I run into in the US."

The media attention was tremendous, Cameron said. "We were in every Irish newspaper the day after the conference. I also did a lot of work with Irish radio and TV stations," he explained. "I even appeared on a radio talk show where the woman arguing me was so crazed we had caller after caller calling in to reject her positions and argue for fundamental reform."

Indeed, the media response was intense and mostly favorable. The Irish Examiner covered the conference and Cameron's remarks the same day with a story titled "US Police Chief's Warning Over Doomed Drug Policy", while the Irish Times published a reaction piece, "Government Considered Legalizing Heroin", and the Examiner came back the next day with another reaction piece, "Legalizing Cannabis 'Would Result in State Being Sued'". But even those reaction pieces featuring government figures explaining why drugs could not possibly ever be legalized kept the discussion of drug prohibition in front of the Irish public.

By the end of last week, the Irish government was forced to respond directly. The man in charge of Irish drug treatment, Minister of State at the Department of Community Noel Ahern, called in reporters to tell them the government was rejecting calls for drug legalization. "We are not going in that direction," he said in remarks reported by Irish wire services. "And if there are moves in the future it would have to be dealt with on a worldwide basis. One country on its own cannot move. Holland tried for a few years ago and they're backing off big time because they realized they were bringing in drug tourism," Ahern added, misrepresenting current Dutch drug policies as he did.

"We wouldn't have expected anything else from the government response," said IPRT's Lines. "But again our main objective was really just to raise debate, and in that sense we were remarkably successful. To paraphrase one of the speakers at the event, if we had held a public forum 20 years ago talking about needle exchange, people would have thought it was a crazy idea, but now it is well established policy."

"The media storm is still going on," Cameron said Tuesday with a mixture of surprise and pleasure. "There have been a couple more columns in the last few days, one of which quoted me extensively. The tack I took went over quite well. I told them I was not there to tell Ireland how to conduct its business, but to tell them US drug policy has been a total failure and ask them to profit from our mistakes. They have a lot of talented people who can come up with Irish solutions for Irish problems. What we've done in the US sure hasn't worked," he said.

An op-ed in the Irish Independent last Sunday titled "The War Isn't Working So Is It Now Time to Consider the Unthinkable and Legalize All Drugs?" was typical of Irish press commentary. "Currently, there is more crime, disease, death and addiction than ever before," wrote the columnist. "He [Cameron] believes, and I share his view, that not one objective or goal of the 'war on drugs' has been met, and that the 'relegalization of drugs' is 'the only way to stop drugs falling
into the hands of our children, to make room for violent offenders to serve their full terms in our prisons, and to return law enforcement to its legitimate function of protecting our citizens.'"

A columnist in the Irish Examiner opined similarly the day before in a piece titled "We Are Losing the War on Drugs and Policy Should Be Stood On Its Head". In that piece, columnist Ryle Dwyer summarized Cameron's argument, added some of his own, and concluded thusly: "Using tried and tested tactics that have failed so dramatically is a cause of, not the answer to, our problems."

"The first step in any effort to promote policy change is to mainstream your perspective, and move it beyond being a 'crazy idea' and make it into a legitimate part of the public discourse," said IPRT's Lines. "One event won't accomplish this, but it is a start. The story continued on in the press in the days after the event, and I think this bodes well for continuing work on this issue, as perhaps we have helped open up safe space for others to make similar arguments themselves."

Conference by conference, op-ed by op-ed, radio show by radio show, the anti-prohibitionist message is spreading, and with the help of groups like LEAP and the IPRT, it is spreading into the mainstream.

Click here to watch the LEAP video online or donate $15 or more to DRCNet to order a copy of the DVD.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Framing the Issue

(cross-posted from my blog)

re: framing the issue:

i think the term "re-legalisation" is a good term. we could frame it in the context of "restoring constitutional freedoms" or "restoring basic American freedoms to disenfranchised populations", both of which speak subconsciously to conservatives' nostalgic longing for "the good old days" as well as tapping into the Pavlovian response Bush has created to sell his agenda by repeated use of the word "freedom" in conjuction with even the most oppressive activities.

other soundbytes include "demanding that our legislature listen to the voice of mainstream America instead of bowing to the will of special interests which profit from the war on drugs", or "ending the rampant government corruption associated with the failed war on drugs", again tapping the populist/nationalist sentiments that Bush has made all the rage with words like "mainstream America".

the Republicans have been very successful with such framing tactics, such as with their mantra of "tax relief" to sell their agenda of shifting the tax burden to the working poor, so if it can be used to sell a lie, it should be that much more effective in selling the truth, yes?

susan 28

The War on Drugs has Failed...

LEAP is and incredible organization made up of retired and present Law Enforcement Officers who all believe the War on Drugs is NOT working.

I am proud to say that I, too, speak for this organization and believe completely in what they stand for.

Together we'll learn 'em!

Join us today at www.leap.cc

Love and a Squish,

Alison Myrden
Retired Law Enforcement Officer
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
www.leap.cc
Federal Medical Marijuana Exemptee in Canada
The Medical Marijuana Mission
www.themarijuanamission.com

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