That was the question being asked and answered repeatedly by almost a thousand drug policy reformers (about 100 of them student activists) as we gathered at the Westin in Long Beach, CA this weekend for the Drug Policy Alliance’s 2005 International Drug Policy Reform Conference.
The issue was pondered as speakers delivered remarks, reformers chatted next to exhibition booths, and other guests at the Westin saw dozens of students wearing t-shirts bearing the words “I fight the drug war - ask me why.”
Some of us are primarily concerned with the way the drug war deprives human beings of autonomy over their own minds and bodies, while others are more motivated by the way current drug policies waste taxpayers’ resources and proliferate violent crime, disease, and death. Most of us have a myriad of reasons for dedicating so much of ourselves to the cause of ending the drug war.
From the disproportionate impact U.S. drug policies have on people of color, to the diversion of otherwise-taxable transactions to the criminal market, and from the impact prohibitionist supply-reduction policies have on the rain forest in Colombia and other countries, to the implications for federalism and states rights, the war on drugs reaches into almost every area of human life and public policy.
Writing now from Long Beach and reflecting over a weekend that went by way too quickly, I have to say I’m in awe of the quality and dedication of so many SSDP activists who traveled here from across the country to meet each other and talk about how to win campaigns and build our organization. Not surprisingly, brilliant students with diverse backgrounds and experiences don’t all agree on how exactly to win this decades-old war. Spirited discussions about how to most effectively move forward took place during breakout and plenary sessions, the SSDP Congress, on the nearby beach sands, and in hotel rooms into the late hours of the night and early hours of the morning.
And I’m further encouraged as I sit here and think about how many conversations activists had over the weekend with other guests in the Westin’s elevators and with pedestrians on the way to and from the other hotels in the area where many attendees slept and hung out.
But of course, we can’t and won’t stop there. If we’re going to put an end to these destructive policies, we need to tell everyone we know and everyone we meet about how the drug war negatively impacts them and everyone they love. No person or family is left untouched, which was made eminently clear by the wide assortment of backgrounds conference attendees came from. Students, cops, judges, drug users, current and former addicts, substance abuse treatment providers, elected officials, medical marijuana patients, former prisoners, and many, many others came together from many different perspectives in unison against a war that destroys lives.
As Ethan Nadelmann, DPA’s executive director, said during the conference’s opening plenary, the reform movement is made up of people who love drugs, people who hate drugs, and people who just don’t give a damn about drugs one way or another.
The diversity of perspectives represented at the conference shows just how complex issues surrounding drug use and abuse really are. There are no silver bullet solutions to these problems, but it is especially up to us – young people who will incur the consequences of these policies for the rest of our lives – to formulate and implement more effective ways to minimize the potential negative consequences associated with the demand for and use of drugs.
I hope that those of you who attended the conference will comment here and share your thoughts on the historic gathering. And if you have any digital pictures of the weekend’s events, please send them to me so we can put them on the SSDP website and share the memories with everyone.