Friday, November 30, 2007

Drug policy reformers from across the country and around the world are gearing up for their annual coming together, The 2007 International Drug Policy Reform Conference. From December 5-8, at least 1,000 activists, including more than 200 students, will descend on the French Quarter to share ideas and battle plans, network, and prepare for another year of work to reform drug laws.

Indeed, New Orleans will be the place to be - and what better place to spend a December weekend than the balmy cultural capital of America, rich with drinks and jazz and a nightlife that puts other cities to shame. Those lucky enough to attend the conference, set in the Astor Crowne Plaza on legendary Bourbon Street, will not have any problems finding things to do: the DPA pamphlet reads like a travel guide.
Old world ambiance, hot jazz, cool eats and sizzling night life awaits
you. Once you arrive at The Astor Crowne Plaza, you will be
within walking distance of many landmarks of New Orleans’
heritage, including: courtyards and iron-laced balconies,
famous restaurants and galleries, Bourbon Street, the mighty
Mississippi River ... and, of course, legendary Jackson Square.
The theme of this year's conference, "Working Towards a New Bottom Line," captures the spirit of the event: bringing together experts and activists, law enforcement and reformers who seek to change the law, students and professionals, and challenging them to together forge a new vision of drug law in America. DPA writes in its pamphlet, "We believe that change is possible in our nation’s drug policies, but that doing so requires all of us to challenge what we think we know and want to believe." Next week in New Orleans, a diverse group of dedicated people will be brought together to work towards one goal, and the potential is enormous.

The conference will focus on a number of specific issues. How can reformers do their job better? What effect does drug use have on our culture and on our politics? What does the most recent research say about drug use and drug policy? How can we reduce the harm caused by drug use? What should we do about bloated prison populations? Answers to these questions, as well as a film festival, an awards dinner, and - of course - the companionship of more than 1,000 like-minded activists, are to be found next week in New Orleans.

SSDP wishes good luck to all attendees.

Have fun.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

SSDP Gets The Message Out On Capitol Hill

On November 1, 2007, SSDP hosted a Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill to illustrate the destruction wrought on thousands of college students who have had their financial aid revoked for minor drug convictions. Good students are being forced to quit school or pay hopelessly high tuition. Unfortunately, some of them surely fall back into drug use, forever losing the chance that they had to get a degree and build a better life.

SSDP's Government Relations Director Tom Angell moderated the event, where six excellent speakers made a compelling case that the Aid Elimination Penalty must be revoked --- and you can watch every moment of the briefing, thanks to Youtube.

"We have a choice," said Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), "you can reduce crime or you can play politics." The Congressman spoke first, arguing that the Aid Elimination Penalty defies logic. "It's counterproductive, because those who are involved in drugs - the last thing you want to do is kick them out of school and give them a lot of free time with nothing to do"

Nicole Byrd, spokesperson for the American Association of University Professors, made a fact-filled argument that focused on the naked irrationality of the Aid Elimination Penalty. "Those with degrees not only add more to the public coffers, but they cost much less, with a fraction of the crime seen in the lesser educated population and a third of the claims for public assistance."

Marisa Garcia said, "I am one of the lucky ones - I didn't have to drop out of school." For simply being caught with a pipe, Marisa and her family had to absorb thousands of dollars in extra expenses as her aid was revoked. How anyone can think this law is fair is beyond this blogger.

Kandice Hawes also had her aid revoked. "At the time that i was affected, I was a responsible, full time, hardworking student," she said. Nevertheless, a single possession ticket was all it took to send her scrambling to find a new source of aid - a search that ended with the Perry Fund.

Representing "The Association of Addiction Professionals," Cynthia Moreno Tuohy offered a clinical view of drug use and shared the story of how she overcame restrictions that are similar to the Aid Elimination Penalty. According to Cynthia, policy makers are not thinking about drug use holistically. "We know that addiction abuse is a bio-psycho-social-spiritual disease and we know that its a medical disease. And yet, ... this law does not treat this as a medical disease"

"We find that its very classist, and quite frankly, its a very racist policy," said Hilary Shelton, the Washington Bureau Director for the NAACP. He shed light on how the Aid Elimination Penalty's effects are mostly targeted towards poor Americans.

Finally, there was a short Q&A at the end of the event. Watch Hilary and Tom field questions on racism and more extreme drug use.

Like all great fights, there have been setbacks in the decade-long battle to end the injustice of the Aid Elimination Penalty. Nevertheless, those who care about fair and sensible drug policy should take heart: as is apparent in these videos, the facts are on our side, and the facts will win in the end.