September 2006 - a change of 20 years

Immediately after Labor Day in September 1986, the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives brought to the floor the hastily conceived and written Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. At the top of the national political agenda was the war on drugs. Catastrophic concepts like mandatory minimum sentences were forced back into the federal justice system. Certification of other nations as meeting U.S. anti-drug standards was required, poisoning America's image and relations with peoples around the world. The voices of reason were largely silenced by the echo chamber of anti-drug hysteria. This fall, twenty years later, Cliff Thornton and Loretta Nall are running for governor of Connecticut and Alabama, respectively. Kevin Zeese is running for United States Senator from Maryland. Chuck Ream is running for U.S. House of Representatives in Michigan. Roger Goodman is running for the Washington State House of Representatives. Jean Marlowe is running for Polk County Commissioner in North Carolina. Marijuana legalization is on the ballot in Nevada. MPP and DPA organize celebrity-filled, politician-endorsed fund raising galas. In the summer of 1987, under the energetic and inspiring leadership of Dr. Arnold Trebach, the new Drug Policy Foundation organized and held the first international drug policy reform conference in London, England. We were a band of less than 75, as I recall. Today, there is no question that drug policy reform is a powerful global movement organizing around dozens of issues, in countless jurisdictions. Sometimes, the Niagra of bullshit about drugs from Capitol Hill, the White House and the news media feels overwhelming. If one is a patient in pain, denied his or her medication by intimidated physicians or an obdurate bureaucracy, the medical marijuana victories of ten years ago in California and Arizona must seem nearly fruitless. Where is the relief? Will it ever come? To those of us engaged in drug policy reform, the failures of prohibition are obvious. Every day we encounter ordinary citizens and total strangers who quickly agree with our analysis -- the case for change is compelling. This can lead us to forget how deeply entrenched are the false beliefs that underlie prohibition -- drug use inevitably leads to drug abuse; hard drugs lead to insanity and crime; there is no safe use of hard drugs; drugs are too dangerous to make legally available; drug use wrecks the lives of young people; drug addicts are walking time bombs; drug users are criminals; the police are heroes in protecting our kids from drugs; and so forth. But, the imprisonment of a person for drug use is wrong and immoral. To threaten a drug user with violence, when a police officer points his or weapon at at a suspect under arrest is wrong and immoral. History is a solace and an encouragement. The struggle to free slaves in America took decades. The struggle for laws to establish justice for people of color took a century after slavery was abolished. The struggle for the right of women to vote took more than seventy years from the Seneca Falls convention of 1848. These were long struggles because they were important -- they fought deeply held traditions. The duration of our struggle is, sadly, simply another measure of the importance of our work. We are pulling up a deeply entrenched prejudice, lies that were taught and fears that were implanted upon our great, great grandparents. We are pulling down a profitable edifice of oppression that pays tens of billions of dollars in salaries, and pays tens of billions of dollars in contracts annually. The veil of ignorance that we are struggling to lift is heavy from repetition and wide spread acceptance. As we work for reform this fall, let's rejoice that we have powerfully articulate advocates fully engaged in the public arena, and that we are driving the agenda with our messages of justice, compassion and common sense. Let's encourage our friends who have stept into the scorching heat of the public spotlight and work hard to get them every vote they can.
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borden's picture

Thank you Eric!

One of the reasons we are so excited about the new "Speakeasy" project is that it gives us a venue to feature the thoughts of luminaries of the drug policy reform movement. Eric has recounted a tragic history for us that he saw up close.

Just as we oppose prohibition and work to enlighten the public as to its consequences, so we must also energetically work to end the most extreme injustices of the drug war now, injustices like the mandatory sentences passed hastily by Congress 20 years ago.

One of the events added to our Reformer's Calendar this week (which now has a new web-based format) is a 15th anniversary fundraiser here in Washington next month for Families Against Mandatory Minimums -- an organization which I believe Eric played a major role in the formation of, and which was one of the first groups I got in touch when I first got involved a mere 13 years ago.

David Borden, Executive Director the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

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