Press Conference Marks 40th Anniversary of Nixon Drug War Declaration [FEATURE]

Forty years ago Friday, President Richard Nixon officially declared "war on drugs," citing drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1." Now, forty years, a trillion dollars, and millions of ruined lives later, drug reformers are mobilizing for a day of rallies, vigils, and other actions in towns and cities across the country. Most of the actions are set for Friday and are being organized by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) in conjunction with other national and local drug reform and social justice groups.

Nixon $1 trillion bill for the drug war -- "this note has been spent in your name pursuing the failed war on drugs")
"Some anniversaries provide an occasion for celebration, others a time for reflection, still others a time for action," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Forty years after President Nixon declared his war on drugs, we're seizing upon this anniversary to prompt both reflection and action. And we're asking everyone who harbors reservations about the war on drugs -- to join us in this enterprise," he said.

"The objective is to work with legislators who dare to raise the important questions, by organizing public forums and online communities where citizens can take action. We are enlisting unprecedented numbers of powerful and distinguished individuals to voice their dissent publicly, and organizing in cities and states to instigate new dialogues and directions in local policies," Nadelmann added.

Some 50 cities will see events, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and New Orleans. [Editor's Note: To find the action nearest you, click here. Look for Drug War Chronicle reporting on the San Francisco event Friday evening.] Here's what will be going on in the six cities listed above:

  • Washington, DC: Leaders from African American and religious communities, including Rev. Jesse Jackson and Dr. Ron Daniels, will hold a forum at the National Press Club on June 17th to denounce current drug war policies. Leaders will call for a new direction in drug policy that reduces the role of the criminal justice system and that addresses the devastating impact of drug policies on black communities.
     
  • Chicago: Hundreds of Chicagoans will gather at the James R Thompson Center to rally against the drug policies that have led to injustices such as the extreme racial disparities in Illinois’s prisons and jails.
     
  • Los Angeles: Grassroots organizations and students, including Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Pico Youth and Family Center, Mothers United to End the War on Drugs, All of Us or None, Homies Unidos and other criminal justice organizations, will stage a Day of Action to call for an end to the war on drugs and mass incarceration. Also, the William C. Velasquez Institute will host a forum in Los Angeles with top Latino leaders to discuss the impact of the drug war on Latino communities.
     
  • New York City: Advocates, community leaders and elected officials will attend a forum and silent vigil at the Harlem State Office Building to highlight the impacts of the drug war on NY communities. The event is being organized by Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH)
     
  • New Orleans: Local criminal justice organizations will commemorate the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs with a Second Line March that is a "Funeral for the failed war on drugs."
     
  • San Francisco: An amalgamation of drug reform, criminal justice, budget reform, and other groups will hold a "Communities Rising" rally and march to send a strong message to Gov. Brown and the legislature that California must prioritize key social services over prison spending. Sponsoring the event are Californians United for a Responsible Budget, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, All of Us or None, American Friends Service Committee, Berkeley Needle Exchange Emergency Distribution, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, California Partnership, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Critical Resistance, Justice Now, Harm Reduction Coalition, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Oasis Clinic, SF Drug Users Union, TGI-Justice Project, These Cuts Wont’ Heal and United for Drug Policy Reform.

"We call on the governor, California’s mayors, police chiefs and sheriffs, and all Californians to join us in calling it a failure that should be stopped immediately," said Dr. Diana Sylvestre of Oasis Clinic and United for Drug Policy Reform. “We will continue to organize to win our fight against this endless assault on sane drug policies."

DPA kick-started the Friday events with a Thursday press conference at the Newseum in Washington, DC. It was supposed to feature former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and a number of US representatives, but a key congressional vote and a conflict in Johnson's schedule meant it was largely up to the silver-tongued Nadelmann and The Wire star Sonja Sohn (Detective Shakima Greggs on the show) to keep the event going until Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) managed to vote, then rush over to the Newseum to join in.

But Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), a big drug reform supporter joined in via teleconference from Vermont.

"We're so congested with convicts we can't build prisons fast enough," said Shumlin. "When we lock up a nonviolent offender it costs us about $47,000 a year, and every dollar of that comes out of a hardworking Vermonter's pocket."

Nadelmann interjected that New England has become a hotbed of reform and cited its proximity to Quebec as a possible reason.

"They have heroin maintenance there," he said. "They can go to a clinic and obtain legally produced heroin, called diamorphine. It's a tragedy that the drug czar and others are unwilling to sponsor such research here."

VT Gov. Shumlin addresses press conference by video feed
"There is an unwillingness among elected officials to deal with this," replied Shumlin. "Almost every country in the world has a better policy. I find it astonishing that after 40 years of a failed drug policy costing taxpayers billions of dollars we continue to followed this failed policy of the war on drugs. It just amazes me."

"The war on drugs has caused great harm to our nation's most precious resource, our women, children, and families," said Sohn, who revealed that she had been a drug-taking mother who kicked on her own. "Mass incarceration leaves a gaping hole in society. Those adults become walking wounded parents, trying to guide children caught up in a community in crisis," the actress said. "We need a society based on compassion and love and freedom for all, as opposed to the heartless lock 'em up strategy of the past. Tough love only works if love is part of it."

Sohn said she used drugs while pregnant and wanted to get off them, but was afraid to. "I feared I would lose my child" if she sought help, she said.

"We need a much more pragmatic strategy," said Nadelmann. "Nobody believes anymore you can drugs away from our young people. Our first message to young people is don't do it, our second message to young people is don't do it, our third message is don't do it, but if you are going to do it, here's some things you might want to know. The bottom line is that you come home safe at the end of the night," he said.

Once she arrived at the Newseum, Rep. Waters was in typically fine form. The Los Angeles congresswoman ripped into the drug war and the politicians that enable it. Drug prohibition is "an utter failure of policy," she said.

"We have led congressional efforts to enact meaningful reform, but we've only achieved incremental change," Waters said. "Reducing the sentencing disparity in the crack law is progress, but it doesn’t go far enough. The US has spent a trillion dollars in the last 40 years to fight the war on drugs, and we have very little to show for it."

Waters said she was going to introduce the Major Drug Traffickers Act of 2011, which would curb federal prosecution of low-level drug offenders and refocus federal resources to target major traffickers instead.

"We can give the courts greater discretion to take individual circumstances into account," she said. "We now have the opportunity to identify some consensus priorities in changing our federal policies, and it's time to take the message to the White House and Congress.

That's exactly what Thursday's press conference and Friday's actions across the country are intended to do. Politicians can only plug their ears for so long before the outcry becomes too loud to ignore.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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The Newseum is on

The Newseum is on Pennsylvania Avenue just down the street from the Capitol building in Washington DC. It  is NOT in suburban Washington DC and is NOT across the Potomac from the Capitol building. I would be embarrassed to have made such a basic error, especially if I were a journalist. You choosing not to fact check and include such a blatant mistake are not doing justice to this important topic or to your profession. If you aren't familiar with DC, the least you could've done is asked someone who does know &/or done an internet search to get the facts. Geez!

I can't believe you said the

I can't believe you said the Newseum is in suburban Washington DC and that Rep. Waters had to cross the Potomac River to get to the event at the Newseum. Geez! It's obvious you don't know the landscape. Plus couldn't (shouldn't) you have at least done your research and found out where the Newseum is in relation to the Capitol building? You are an embarrassment to your profession and to Stop the Drug War. You don't care enough about this very important topic to get basic facts right. Do your homework!!

borden's picture

Phil moved to the west coast

Phil moved to the west coast several years ago, when the Newseum was still in Arlington, Virginia. I guess he didn't hear about its move, and I missed it in proofing.

Why bother with this Major

Why bother with this Major Drug Traffickers Act?  I mean, it's a good start, but will only perpetuate the Drug War.  Legalize all drugs, and you won't have to go after traffickers anymore!

It should be obvious to

It should be obvious to anybody who studies history that Nixon's "Drug War" had more to do about quelling the popularity and agenda of the hippie movement from the 60s than keeping people safe from drugs.  Nixon used drugs as an excuse to go after anti-war protestors that were really having an effect on US foreign policy at the time.  Along with hippie celebrities like John Lennon who were becoming too powerful for the establishment, Nixon wanted to stop the whole counterculture movement.

For anybody out there reading this that supports the Drug War, grow the hell up!  Anybody with enough compassion and sense can see that the Drug War is only a tool to crack down on segments of the population.  And this changes over the years.  Right now the big purpose for the Drug War 2011 is to feed the prison industrial complex, drive the judicial business from legal aids to judges, and of course law enforcement.

The pharmaceutical, tobacco, and alcohol also play a roll, along with other lobbyists usually with monetary ambitions.  The Drug War today is also an attack on people of color.

Please, be a real human being of understanding and reason and support ending this horrible crime against humanity known as the Drug War.   

This did more to spread drug traffic than anything since

This big war started when Nixon closed the border for days of weeks back then. Due to the interuption it was the biggest major blow to the drup wars strategy. This is because it was the beginning of large scale home growing and breeding by a generation of american and european growers. The home grown movement has done more to screw up the the big drug war lobby than any other factor. Once people found out they could grow (basically for free) better weed than they had been buying, many kept with it. Many also used it as a way to generate income and built the industry that fuels the prop 19 movement and tremendous money being made today. Grow your own, save your good seeds and cut out the dealers and big pharma.

grow your own

I would but growing my own caused such anxiety over prosecution and the loss of my children that I've had to do without. PLEASE, PLEASE get legalization through. Come on stoners, get up off the bong and VOTE!!!

Brinna's picture

Hi Mom,

I hope, between times, when there is nothing to vote on, that you also are taking a moment to make your views clear to your elected representatives, and local media. It does make a difference, and it's something we all can do from the comfort of our own homes, via email. What could be easier?

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