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Drug Policies For The New Millennium . . . [continued]
Notes on the Lindesmith-DPF Conference, by Erowid Crew Member V
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Plenary Session I
Taking Stock: Victories in Drug Policy Reform

From successful ballot initiatives and legislative victories to headway in the courts, drug policy reformers scored a number of tangible wins in the last year. What are we doing right (and wrong)? How do we build on our successes? What are our next horizons?

(Intro: Bill Zimmerman has masterminded virtually all of the state ballot issues on medical marijuana. )

  1. State Ballot Initiatives:
    Bill Zimmerman, Director, Campaign for New Drug Policies

    Let me begin by disclaiming personal credit. It has been a team effort - I want to give them public recognition (lists a number of people I couldn't catch fast enough)

    Five years ago, Americans had an opportunity to vote on a drug policy statewide for the first time. Initiatives were won that repudiated existing drug policy.. these were the cracks in the dam of ignorance and false information that constitute the War on Drugs in the U.S. today. From those two victories, we won others in 1998, 1999, and 2000. These victories are part of the heritage of this movement. To be sure we all understand how we won these and what issues they covered, I will summarize what has happened, so that this heritage is something that becomes common to us all.

    In 1996, an initiative on Prop 215 on medical marijuana. We discovered not only widespread voter support but significant institutional support. 7/10 major newspapers endorsed the proposition, which supported a broad use of medical marijuana with a prescription - it garnered 55% of the vote. One million votes more than the other side, despite fact that every law enforcement officer in CA were in opposition, in a state where law has too much impact. California imprisons more people for everything than anywhere else in the country or the world, it is the state with the most draconian drug laws in the country.

    At the same time, another initiative far more significant was organized in Arizona. Prop. 200 granted treatment instead of incarceration to 1st and 2nd time offenders, and authorized medical marijuana. More far-reaching, this won by 65-35 in one of the nation's most conservative states.. it won because of the breadth of the coalition, best exemplified by two former U.S. senators: Barry Goldwater representing Republican conservative law and order politics, and Dennis Deconcini, representing democratic law and order politics. Given that California is more of a press magnet for publicity as a harbinger for cultural trends, California got more attention despite Arizona's initiative being more extensive.

    Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey threatened doctors with loss of their livelihood if they prescribed. Thanks to that overreaction we could organize more effectively and broadly. As a result we could broaden strategy in the following electoral cycle.

    Then we placed initiatives in numerous states:
    Alaska: 1998 59-41% won
    Nevada: Question 9 won by 60-40 %
    Oregon: Measure 67 55- to 45
    (and so on)

    For an initiative in the District of Columbia, the U.S. Congress passed a measure preventing DC from spending money to count the election results, which were 69-31. But it took until a court overturned the decision to find this out.

    A note on exit polls.. knowing that the results couldn't be counted on election night, we paid for a poll on election night ... exit poll indicated 69% of DC'ers had voted for that. A year later, when the actual count was made, it was precisely 69%.

    Along the way we've encountered technical difficulties with these initiatives. Governors rejecting for measures for insufficient numbers of signatures, which was not true. Similar in Colorado: first the governor said ok, then said even though the initiative is on the ballot, it can't count due to lack of signatures. We went to court and got put on ballot in year 2000 when Coloradans supported with 50% approval.

    In Nevada, constitutional amendments in Nevada must pass twice.. in 1998 and then in 2000, we won both. The Nevada one required the state to supply marijuana. This is not covered by the recent Supreme Court decision, so they may go this way more now. If coops and clubs don't work, state distribution may be the way to go.

    Then we looked at other issues in which the public is ahead of the politicians.... We discovered two such issues in which huge disparity occurred: asset forfeiture, and treatment instead of incarceration for offenders. In Oregon, 67-33 making it illegal for police to seize property until convicted, and the value of the property has to be spent on drug treatment. In Utah, a similar margin passed 69-31 in America's most conservative and Republican state - it requires that funds go to public education, not police.

    In California - treatment for 1st and 2nd time offenders was approved. This will save 36,000 people a year from prison in California.. 24,000 first and 2nd time, and 12,000 parolees and probationers.

    Not only will all those lives saved and families spared the loss of a parent, but state and others will save an enormous amount of money, because this is a smart public policy. It costs $4000 a year to give drug treatment, and $30,000 a year for prison.

    After the state of California spends $120 million a year on drug treatment, it will have saved $150 million on incarceration costs and will not have to build one of two prisons at a saving of $500 million. We lost an initiative in Massachusetts that would have given smalltime dealers as well as users the right to treatment.

    This tells us that there are limits to what we can do. We have to carefully assess where people are on the issues and do the education and organizing work before we bring initiatives to the ballot.

    It's vital that we continue to win. Movement needs to be seen as having forward momentum.. more and more support, more and more officials, so I want to underscore Ethan's remarks: we need to make careful assessments about who we're speaking to and what we're asking them to do.

  2. Litigation and the Courts:
    Graham Boyd, Director, ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project

    It's great to be here, and I love the spirit here, and I am amazed to say that in the courts we are winning too!

    (introduces their main lawyer to applause from the audience)

    Rev. Sanders referred to 1950.. we're at the same place as the civil rights movement was. That analogy works in the court context too.. Ira Glasser asked me to start this project three years ago.. and asked me to think about how in '54 supreme court ruled against 'separate but equal' in secondary school education, and articulated a notion of justice that led to so much more. It gave activists a baseline to say 'justice requires equality under the law' .

    I think we're at about 1950 now.. we haven't seen that case yet.. but we will.

    So, what has the Supreme Court done in the last year?

    In the last year: Florida vs JL: ruled 9-0 that police could not stop or frisk someone on an anonymous tip.. it is unconstitutional. What is interesting is that justice Ginsburg started talking about drugs.. and said the threat of guns was the same as the threat of drugs.

    Many of the bad things in court law have been about drugs - our privacy, religious rights etc put aside for that.

    Another case: Eastern Associated Coal vs Mine Workers. This involved a driver who had been tested and failed with drugs twice...through arbitration he was put back on the job. But again a 9-0 decisions: Breyer said federal law requires that drug testing has as its primary goal - rehabilitation!!

    So if the arbitrator allowed it, then rehabilitative goals trump government interest in punitive drug policy. This says a lot about changing the dialog in this country.. from how should we penalize, to talking about treatment. Mainstream people are saying there is something not right.. the court has to ask if they can get away with making the War on Drugs the excuse for ignoring the constitution - and they are getting cold feet.

    For the most part the Supreme Court relies on people believing them. It has no army or laws it can make. The recent presidential election de-legitimized them - and courts have to maintain their legitimacy by ruling in a way that people agree with. In saying that the War on Drugs is not a blank check.. they can now say courts and the constitution demand something besides punishments.

    It's in the shadows, not in the headlines.. but you all here should know that things are going in a good way in the courts.

    In the Ferguson case - drug testing of a woman merely because she's pregnant, if you're turning that over to law enforcement, is not acceptable. This is very significant.. and the last Supreme Court case in Indiana involved roadblocks - simply setting up a roadblock is not a good enough reason! The drug exception was rejected again!

    Cases in the lower courts.. have all resulted in victories.

    We would never have predicted this: Earls vs Tecumseh: school drug testing in Oklahoma - a good student needed to be drug tested because she was on the debate team and the choir. These were the only reasons, and it's probably headed toward the Supreme Court.

    In another case, Larry Tannehill lost job and family and received death threats merely for standing up to drug testing. (Judge) Ann Cummings in Texas, in a brilliant opinion found that the drug war not an excuse for testing everyone

    In Michigan, striking down drug testing of welfare applicants.

    Religious freedom in Guam - a Rastafarian man arrested for marijuana. Religious Freedom Restoration Act tried to restore this freedom in the territories. The case was victorious. Now filing in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, that a Rastafarian has the right to use marijuana for religious purposes.

    Medical marijuana -
    The Turner case in DC. The government said you can't count votes for fear of losing an election.. this is only the second time (Nigeria being the other) this has happened.

    In Connecticut.. needle exchange people are getting harassed, it's a violation of constitution for police to harass them.

    Late breaking news: federal government is using crack house laws against rave organizers.. in New Orleans, rave organizers are up for 20 years. They say they have first amendment rights to play music.

    Across the board we have been able to go to court and claim constitutional rights and common sense. We are getting through to the public because we are winning in the courts, and getting through to the courts because we're talking to the people.

  3. Clemencies:
    Julie Stewart, President and Founder, Families Against Mandatory Minimums

    It's a pleasure to be here and see this room filed with people who agree on these issues. I've been working on sentencing reform since 1990.. for my brother being sent down for growing pot. I didn't realize how entrenched these policies are, and how unwilling everyone is to do something perceived as soft on crime.

    But change now is more possible than ever.

    (Discussing commutations of sentence) Marc Rich got a pardon, but little attention has been paid to humanitarian commutations: 28 prisoners' sentences were commuted.

    (Tells stories of people fighting unjust imprisonment)

    Many cheers for various people in the audience released from prison.

    Clinton did commute some sentences. Seventeen prisoners released were FAM members; the total saved in years of time in prison for those 17 people was 169 years, about ten years apiece on average.

    But this high was followed by a low - there are so many people left behind. This (commuting sentences) is not the answer. It is very exciting to see the people here who've been released, but it is staggering to know the people who have not had that freedom. We need to address the problem at the front end (and not arrest them).

    We need systemic change. I now feel more committed than ever to work on the front end of this, to prevent people from going to prison in the first place.

  4. State Legislative Initiatives:
    Glenn Backes, Director, Health and Harm Reduction Program, The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation

    (Intro by someone else: Glenn Backes handled projects in eastern Europe and Soviet Union.. then decided he should turn his attention to the most backward country...the United State of America (laughter from the audience)).

    (I'm going to give ) highlights of legislative change. To work in legislation is to sit across the aisle from people whose positions are reprehensible. Everyone I know who works on drug policy reform, came to state capitals because they wanted to work for justice -- and they are forced to work for compromise instead.

    I want to give a lot of respect to the people who've been doing this for years. (applause).

    A summary of some legislative action:
    Syringe availability
    NH, RI and NY - made syringes more available - this is the most important piece of AIDS legislation ever.
    HAWAII passed reforms
    IL - not one of our victory stories except in sense of how far it has come from before.

    Medical marijuana: HI: patient rights through their legislature: now patients have the right to medical marijuana if their doctor says it's a good idea to try it.
    CA: medical marijuana passed by initiative but still work to do in legislature about how to make it available to patients.
    Patients need cards, say police, to make them (the police) more comfortable with medical marijuana.

    Methadone: Seven stats still have no methadone legal.
    VT was one of those till last year.. now it's passed.

    Sentencing reform: CONN: under Gov. John Roland, returned discretion to judges -- the first state to give back that power to judges.
    NY: governor put medical marijuana in his 'State of the state' address - this will be the year to roll back Rockefeller mandatory minimums. Also a proponent of truth in sentencing, making people serve 85% of the time to be served. This might make people spend MORE time in jail, however.
    On the horizon: parity for substance abuse treatment.. getting HMOs and state to pay for treatment. It's a huge struggle..but politicians are on notice that voters want something different. The big problem is getting people access to treatment.
    Not only rolling back these laws, but new sentences for new drugs - ecstasy, GHB, amphetamine - must be fought.

    Asset Forfeiture - not time to report on that here.

    And we're working on bills to get states involved . Overdose from heroin has quadrupled in the last 16 years; most states don't have one person whose job is to look at policies related to that.


Ethan Nadelman:
Fighting for drug policies based on human rights is our tagline.

Governor Gary Johnson:
What's great is that I'm here in ABQ not having to talk about drug reform (to a hostile audience)!

What this conference highlights is, it puts a face to the 1.6 million arrests in this country a year. We got a face to that today which is important.. and we're putting a face to the foreign experience as well - that we're behind the rest of the world. There are things happening that are very positive. Bottom line is finding strategies that reduce death, disease and crime -putting resources into education and rehabilitation. That's discussed today by people who are the front line in every one of these areas.

Alex Wodak, MD,
President, International Harm Reduction Association.- leading proponent for drug policy reform in Australia
First, I want to salute Gary Johnson... (much applause).

This may seem to an American audience an American struggle, but it plays out in the rest of the world and has a huge impact on my country, and it needs to reflect what ordinary people are saying in increasing numbers around the world.

The War on Drugs has been a passport for government people with more ambition than talent to win. Fear campaigns win in the short term.. but that's about to change. The costs of change occur now, the benefits occur in the future.. if they are past the next election, it's as though they don't occur for politicians.

Among the two major movements in the 20th century: war on communism and War on Drugs. The U.S. has played a crucial role in fighting communism, and in sustaining the War on Drugs well past its use-by date. The very policy meant to protect our children is allowing them to die.

There's an international movement in the War on Drugs. Nixon established it, it caught on worldwide. Communism and War on Drugs have both achieved dreadful outcomes; and both also deny the importance of market forces. In Pakistan a kilo of opium sells for a thousand dollars, in New York it is worth $300,000 - meaning that it WILL move from Pakistan to New York.

We need to regard this as primarily a health and social issue. Drug law enforcement will always be there, the question is what is the right kind of balance to end up with. It's easier for drug users to find a dealer than drug treatment - when it should be the other way around.

I saw my health minister recently, who said what is needed is
- a change in public opinion
-support from the international community
-leadership from the medical profession to support change. Change is occurring more slowly in the U.S. than in the rest of the world.

Dorothy Gaines -
(From Mobile, Alabama, was sentenced to 19 years in prison. She never used or sold drugs, as a widow with three children. She believes she was imprisoned because she wouldn't give information to the government. When she found her boyfriend was a user, she put him in rehab... when she wouldn't testify against him, they told her she would be indicted..)

This is not a War on Drugs, but a war on people. The kingpin in my case was sentenced to 12 years, and I was sentenced to 20 years.

I ask that people take a stand.. look at the Frontline tape on "Snitch" The prison industry ( is gaining free labor, and that becomes a motivation for spurious drug laws that bring nonviolent people into prison to be used for labor).

Rev. Edwin Sanders
We need the voices of those people who are looked to for maintaining some sense of moral and ethical perspectives. For the drug policy issue to reach the depths of the community, we need as messengers the clergy who are respected and key leaders, and have those regular audiences. So we're trying to mobilize clergy and academic professionals .

We're trying to get people to realize connections between drug policy reform and other issues:
- Health status of community
- (others I didn't catch)

We're moving forward on race and class and gender, now we need to address drug policy reform-we're trying to get folks to see drug policy reform needs to be added to the agenda. We now have 600 religious leaders in a group supportive of these issues, and increasing that to the thousands is the main goal.

Ethan Nadelmann:
"Drug policy foundation" - we need a new name given the recent merger; we want to be the Sierra Club of drug policy reform. We have 10,000 members now, and are working closely with other organizations.

For the press, I want to bring up - What are the possible story ideas out there??

  • Is there any chance that Bush pulls a 'Nixon goes to China' on drug policy?
  • America is too focused and looking only at solutions within our borders. The Swiss, the Germans, the Dutch - Spain and others are moving forward, England is moving on. Australia almost has a national consensus for a change in drug policy.
  • A story not really been told: after winning medical marijuana in CA.. 6 months later, there's a new conversation between users, police, growers etc on how to make this (a change in drug policy) work.. There's a major story in New Mexico today.
Ask anybody in New Mexico if they've heard about the issue-- there's a lot of thinking going on in New Mexico today. Johnson has generated a dialog in fertile ground. The governor plays a pivotal role in this.. now among the 50 governors, he is the one who can speak the most knowledgably. He knows more about harm reduction and drug policy than any other governor. Raising the legalization word and also harm reduction -- that's unprecedented at this level of politics.


Q: Why hemp and its ramifications are not on the program?

NADELMANN: People 10 years ago were showing up and saying hemp would save the universe. I used to laugh, but now the evidence is in that it is an amazing plant with amazing properties.

There is not a single argument against hemp. It makes no sense, economically, and it is ethically counterproductive. The hemp people aren't involved because allying with drug policy reform people will not do them good. Also, this issue will be won in every state. 50-55% of the people were for it. Banning hemp reduces legitimacy of the drug warriors and makes them laughable.

Q: Gov. of Chihuahua.. recently told Mexican press that he supported Gov. Johnson... - what are comments ?

NADELMANN: We had a lengthy conversation after the assassination attempt.. I'm going to meet with them and see what innovative ideas are there. We have a militarized border with Mexico, because of our drug policy.

(The Mexican) foreign minister and president say there is no alternative to legalization. The President of Uruguay same out publicly with a statement about the stupidity of the drug war. And for every public official who says it, there are dozens more at the highest levels of government.

Q: the magazine National Defense just reported this, it goes out to defense contractors, reported by reporter John Stanton:that the Department of Justice gave a $316 million contract over 5 years to Dynacore to have 1000 with high security clearance - DOJ hired 'Dynacore'?? national Reporter John Stanton:

Q: Re corruption at the highest levels - can you document corruption of admirals and generals and so on... every president and much of our bipartisan government is totally involved in the drug trade or somehow receives benefit from it.... Basically the wealthy have kept the most lucrative biz for themselves.

Nadelmann:.. says there are corruption at the highest levels around the world.. of course people are tainted.. but he doesn't think it goes to level that the question indicated.

There was documentation on CIA involvement in LA crack world.. but it diverted attention from far more serious racism in this country. I'm more concerned with corrections officers unions...they've have now shifted attention to building bigger prisons and unions. My major concern is over people who are benefiting clearly.

Q: further drug law reform here in New Mexico??

Gov. Johnson: we're still optimistic.

Q: What's changing in the black community nationally?

Rev. Sanders: We'll see more and more leaders.. the thing is, how do you begin to impact the thought of people who really are at the grassroots?

Q: Rasta guy was in court and says he wants Freedom FROM religion. Anslinger pressed all the religious leaders to think it was demoralizing - Religion has imposed this War on Drugs on us.

Rev Sanders: Many churches use wine as a mind-altering substances.. I don't think they understand that comparisons can be made.

Q: (missed the question)

Gov. Johnson: Virtually all arrests are the result of undercover narcotics agents. Find one case where someone said ''they sold me drugs, go arrest them'-- you can't. It's always undercover narcs and sentence-reduction in return for turning someone else in.

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