Skip to main content

Kevin Sabet Responds

Submitted by smorgan on

Kevin Sabet has asked me to share his response to my two previous posts discussing his participation in the Beyond 2008 forum in Vancouver. I've exercised my editor's prerogative by inserting my reactions within his statement. Sabet's remarks can be read without interruption here.

Your posts have multiple half-truths and lies that beg major correction. First, while I did say that 80% of the Forum's participants agreed with each other that legalization/regulation was the way to go, I would hardly call this an "observation that the experts are lined up against him" since the so-called experts you referred to were composed almost entirely of the major activists of drug policy "reform." People from organizations like NORML, the ACLU, DPA, multiple cannabis consumers unions, drug user unions, etc. This was not at all a diverse and representative group of people composed of researchers, practitioners, or policy makers. These were well-known voices in the legalization movement, many of which I have debated and discussed drug policy with before.

Compare Sabet's argument with the actual list of delegates who participated in the event. Most attendees came from the fields of public health, HIV/AIDS, and substance abuse research. His claim that the group was "composed almost entirely of the major activists of drug policy 'reform'" is just false on its face as anyone can plainly see.

That is why this Forum was so one-sided and closed-minded. Multiple ad hominem attacks were hurled at me and other colleagues -- attacks deemed unreasonable and unfair by the moderators and hosts of the conference.

I'm told that only one participant was admonished by the moderators for "attacking" Kevin Sabet. This person suggested that Sabet and Kelly Corcoran of Drug Free America Foundation were "from another planet."

Rather than focusing on the questions at hand, the Forum served to prop-up people like Jack Cole (who gives new meaning to the term "media seeker") to get on a soap box and rant about legalization. This was unfortunate, because I was hoping for much more civil, less biased dialogue.

The purpose of the forum was to discuss how the UN treaties have been implemented in member countries, what their intended and unintended consequences have been, and to solicit recommendations on best practices and principles that should be adopted in future treaties. The opinion that these treaties have been an unmitigated disaster is a perfectly legitimate and relevant viewpoint, which the organizers expected many participants to express. Oddly, Sabet considers this to be "biased dialogue," while presumably believing his own contrary ideas to be unbiased.

Furthermore, I'm told that many of the most scathing indictments of the drug war that emerged in Vancouver came not from the usual suspects named by Sabet, but rather from the AIDS and public health sectors. It appears that whenever someone from outside drug policy reform expresses support for our ideas, Sabet automatically re-categorizes them as members of the "legalization movement." Maybe he's right, but this doesn’t refute my original point that the experts are flocking towards reform.

Also, please check The Province article. I NEVER "heckled" anyone, but rather, as the article reads:

"Cole's message at the conference drew criticism from Dr. Kevin Sabet, a former speechwriter for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, who is now with Project: Sundial (Supporting United Nations Drug Initiatives and Legislation)."

This is correct. The article from The Province claiming that Sabet "heckled" Jack Cole has been changed as Kevin says, and I've updated my prior post to reflect that. I'm told that Kevin didn't heckle anyone. To the contrary, I understand he conducted himself with civility and was active in seeking to establish rapport with others at the event. We should commend him for this and take note of how rare such behavior is among our most passionate opponents.

[Note: SUNDIAL is a volunteer effort that came about when NGOs from around the world approached me to form an umbrella group to keep them informed of UN policies and programs.]

Second, I NEVER asked anyone for 50% of the time at this Forum. That would have been unattainable and undesired. I spoke each time I wanted to, and I think the moderators did a pretty good job at making sure that everyone spoke. The entire subject of your second blog is completely wrong! Please correct it as such. That isn't to say that I thought the meeting was pretty one-sided.

My source stands firmly by the claim that Sabet requested 50% of the speaking time. Many people saw him pass a note to the moderators and wondered what it said. The moderators found it amusing and disclosed the contents of the note to a colleague of mine. I have great confidence in my source, but I'll allow for the possibility that the moderators misstated the contents of the note. If Sabet wishes to take further issue with this, he can begin by informing us what the note was about.

To be fair, the moderators also received complaints from reformers that Sabet was getting too much speaking time, so he wasn't the only one seeking a competitive advantage (if, in fact, he did so). The moderators ultimately concluded that they were doing a good job because they were criticized from both sides.

Other notable corrections are needed: this was NOT a UN-sponsored forum, even though people claimed this was true. This was a forum sponsored by the Vienna NGO Committee, in order to hopefully give guidance to the CND at the UN. Very different.

The UN asked the Vienna NGO Committee to organize these summits. Sabet's point is technically true, but irrelevant. The whole purpose was to provide feedback and policy recommendations to the UN.

I would like to point out that the tone in which I am referred to -- as a belligerent, ignorant, single-minded goof making money off of the "drug war" -- is offensive and distasteful. I worked hard to make sure we had two Forums -- one in Vancouver and one in Florida -- in order to get diverse points of view, even if I didn't agree with the Vancouver recommendations.

I haven't called Sabet any names or accused him of drug war profiteering. Beyond that, his claim that he worked to provide an open forum is dubious on several levels. Quite obviously, he was distressed by the viewpoints he heard in Vancouver, yet now claims that he sought them out purposefully.

Moreover, the Florida event he refers to excluded not only reformers, but AIDS organizations, public health groups, and many others. It was organized primarily by the Drug Free America Foundation, which held the event in St. Petersburg (its own backyard). As I understand it, the Vancouver forum happened only after countless NGOs complained about their exclusion from the initial event. If Sabet intends to claim that there was anything remotely inclusive or unbiased about the St. Petersburg forum, let's see if he can name a single reformer who was permitted to attend (many asked and were turned away).

The fact that he helped organize such a one-sided event really puts all of his complaints about Vancouver in perspective. In fact, the main reason more of his allies didn’t show up in Vancouver is because they'd already attended the St. Petersburg event that no reformers were allowed into! While Sabet tries to spin his role in organizing both events as evidence of his good will, the very fact that two events took place is a massive exhibit of the poor faith with which DFAF, and likely Sabet himself, approached this entire process from the very beginning.

I worked closely with Vancouver's organizers, and we discussed things in a civil spirit. I came back with contacts from many people whom I hope to open a dialogue with, including Deborah Small of Breaking The Chains, Daniel Wolfe of OSI, and others. To be barraged afterward on your blog is simply unclassy on your part, and it certainly does not serve your cause well. I strive everyday to find common ground with people I disagree with.

I continue to be amazed as to why I would be singled-out in your blog. I simply believe that drug use causes more harm than good, and I have seen the devastating effects of it on families and communities. While I agree that laws should also not cause more harm than good, I also believe that there are simple ways of changing certain aspects of a restrictive policy that does not resort to the pitfalls and uncertainties of full-scaled regulation/legalization. I think we have a difficult time enough dealing with our legal drugs (alcohol and tobacco), and I've been unimpressed with places that have attempted to experiment with quasi-forms of legalization (Platzpitz, The Netherlands, etc.). These are simply my views and my opinions. Why should I be chastised for them?

I don't dispute the fact that Sabet's diplomacy far exceeds that of many of his colleagues. By all accounts, he's been genuinely friendly and professional in his interactions with drug policy reformers and I've heard that said of him repeatedly over a period of years. I also understand him to be an earnest spokesman for his beliefs, driven by his own observations and experiences.

Thus, it is not Kevin Sabet, but rather the body of thought he represents which I take issue with and will seek to dismantle at every opportunity. To the extent that my extended coverage of the Vancouver forum constitutes a "barrage" against him, I can only say that my comments on the matter remain online unedited and in my opinion fall short of being "offensive," "distasteful," or "unclassy."

The significance of all this, as I've maintained from the beginning, is that a diverse panel of professionals working to address the drug problem convened in Vancouver at the behest of the United Nations and concluded overwhelmingly that the drug war must end. Sabet's complaints provide a vivid illustration of this important point and that's the only reason his name has appeared in my blog with such frequency this week.

Yeah, that's right folks, drug policy reform has more than doubled in potency since the 1980's. This is not your parents' drug legalization movement.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.