Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Seattle Mayor-Elect is Pro Legalization. So is Everyone Else.

Mike McGinn is the first to point out that his support for the legalization and regulation of cannabis is nothing new. The Seattle Mayor-Elect shares the same point of view as former Seattle Police Chief turned Law Enforcement Against Prohibition speaker, Norm Stamper. Then you've got Seattle Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson who just introduced a bill to legalize and tax in Washington state.
Under her bill, marijuana would be sold in Washington state's 160 state-run liquor stores, and customers, 21 and older, would pay a tax of 15 percent per gram. The measure would dedicate most of the money raised for substance abuse prevention and treatment, which is facing potential cuts in the state budget. Dickerson said the measure could eventually bring in as much to state coffers as alcohol does, more than $300 million a year.
The 3 of them share the same common sense point of view as the majority of Americans; 53% according to this recent poll support ending marijuana prohibition. And we now have 4 states that have introduced taxation/legalization legislation. Obviously public opinion has changed rapidly on the subject (or more are just choosing to voice a longtime view) and lawmakers are kind of starting to step up to the plate.

Of course, you can count on your state narcotic officers association to come in and cause a hullabaloo by scaring the bejesus out of everyone with the same ol' scare tactics. Since the economic argument for legalization has gained so much support, I've heard some law enforcement spokesmen come up with some creative ways to try and counter, but Ron Brooks, President of the National Narcotics Officers Association has a good one:
State lawmakers, he said, need to ask themselves "if they believe we really will make all that revenue, and even if we did, will it be worth the suffering, the loss of opportunities, the chronic illness or death that would occur?"
I think he may have confused marijuana use with the bubonic plague.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A SSDP Christmas for MSSU

Here at SSDP, we hope you and your families had a wonderful holiday and we look forward to the new year to bring about more sensibility to policies surrounding drugs.

If you have a little extra Christmas cheer you'd like to spread, please donate to the Missouri Southern State University (MSSU) SSDP chapter and help them come out to San Francisco on March 12, 2010 for This is Your Brain on Drug Policy: SSDP's International Drug Policy Reform Conference.

The chapter at MSSU has been one of SSDP's most active and talented chapters to date. Just check out all the cool stuff that comes up after a google search of MSSU SSDP. You'll be impressed.

MSSU also submitted this downright hilarious yet heartwarming video of chapter members hoping that Santa Claus will bring them what they truly want for Christmas.

Help Send Students to San Francisco

With SSDP's International Conference rapidly approaching, some SSDP chapters are looking for donations to help them make it out to San Francisco. Each week, I'll be posting a different video from an SSDP chapter or member asking for your help to get them to the conference.

You probably heard about SSDP getting scrooged by those grinches at Chase Bank. The $25,000 we should have won in that contest would have been used for our conference scholarship fund to help bring SSDP chapters out to San Francisco March 12-14 so they can network with hundreds of other SSDP members from around the world and learn A-Z about drug policy and activism.

If you can spare even $10, please make a donation to SSDP's conference scholarship fund. You can even make your donation go to a specific SSDP chapter.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Boycott Chase Bank

It's not because we didn't win. In fact, we're quite positive we did win and that we were disqualified because Chase doesn't agree with our mission. We're boycotting Chase because they refuse to explain whether SSDP and MPP were disqualified from the contest based on the subject matter we work on. (read the previous post to learn more about the contest)

This isn't a case of sour grapes. We know we made it in the top 100 and simply want Chase to admit that SSDP was one of the top 100 organizations voted for by the public and explain that we were disqualified because Chase disagrees with our mission (which they have the right to do).

The New York Times caught wind of the story and talked with Micah Daigle, SSDP's Executive Director and Alex Koroknay-Palicz, Executive Director of the National Youth Rights Association. Just two days before the contest ended, Chase took down the vote counters on each organization's page so it was impossible for any group to tell how many votes they have. Micah and Alex explain how we had to have made the cut:

So some participants created informal leader boards. For instance, the National Youth Rights Association, a tiny nonprofit that works to teach young people about their rights and how to protect them, compiled voting data on almost 400 contestants, and 82 of the organizations that it tracked were among the 100 winners Chase named.

“For the most part, the organizations Chase picked were exactly the organizations we expected to win, because we had spent a lot of time and effort tracking it,” Mr. Koroknay-Palicz said. “So the biggest surprise was SSDP and a couple of pro-life groups, as well as the organization called the Prem Rawat Foundation, didn’t make it, because they had been doing pretty well.”

According to the leader board he created, Students for Sensible Drug Policy collected 2,305 votes through Dec. 9, when organizations no longer could track their votes or see who had voted for them.

At 2,305 votes, SSDP was in 14th place just a few days before the end of the contest. It's very unlikely we were surpassed by so many other organizations. By eliminating us, Chase is trying to send the message that no one cares about the work that non-profits like SSDP are doing. But drug policy reform is no longer a fringe issue; nationwide support for marijuana legalization is greater than ever before, a majority feel the drug war has failed and SSDP's chapter network is growing exponentially.

Most importantly, a giant corporation like Chase should not be presenting the public with a list of organizations it will be donating money to while pretending that all of those groups were selected by voters alone and not by the almighty hand of Chase.

What's so ironic about the whole thing is that SSDP has used Chase Bank for over 3 years - so they have no problem doing business with us but don't want us to participate in their contest. If you're feeling unhappy about Chase's lack of transparency in this contest, then make sure you Pledge to Boycott Chase!

If you're going to boycott Chase, please also consider making a donation to SSDP. If just 1,000 people donate $25, we'll have earned the $25K Chase wouldn't give us. And that's some funding we could use for our upcoming conference!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

10 Second Activism - Help SSDP Win $1 Million

That's right folks. In under 10 seconds and with just a few clicks of your mouse you can help SSDP win $1 Million on Facebook!

Just go to Click for Reform and follow the easy-as-pie steps. There's 2 rounds of voting. The 100 organizations with the most votes will each win $25,000 and make it into the 2nd round for a chance at winning $1 Million! (you will have to allow the causes application to be installed)

After you've voted, make sure you join the I Voted for SSDP to Win $1 Million facebook event and set the below image as your Facebook profile picture!

Please share on Facebook, Twitter it, and get the words out any way you can!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Adventures of SSDP Man!

Please check out the many fantastic videos we received for the the Seeds of Reform conference scholarship party. You'll find a wide spectrum of creative submissions from chapters all around the country letting you know why they need to come to SSDP's 11th Annual International Drug Policy Conference. The students at our UMD chapter tried their hand at rapping about drug policy, Fitchburg State College hopes to lend a helping hand to a community in need, and Northern Virginia Community College introduced the world to the most needed super hero yet, SSDP Man!

In case you're wondering, the Seeds of Reform Party was a huge success and raised over $20,000 for SSDP's conference scholarship fund! I'll post more details and pictures from the party shortly.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SSDP Rocks the DPA Conference

SSDP brought the numbers, energy, and passion of youth to the Drug Policy Alliance conference last week in Albuquerque, NM. Over 60 SSDPers assembled at the final plenary of the conference, chanting "SSDP" and "Education Not Incarceration" so that not one of the over 1,000 conferees could ignore what we brought to the table: organization, unity, chanting.

Our section of the audience burst into boisterous applause when SSDPer, Nubia Legarda, rose to tell her story of drug war violence and her family in El Paso and neighboring Ciudad Juarez.

Nubia's moving story of the human toll of drug prohibition-caused violence highlighted one of the many negative but so often overlooked costs of our current drug policy.

SSDP chapter members, board and staff all helped raise our profile by working our table, presenting on panels, attending workshops, meeting new allies, granting interviews, and hosting a party at our SSDP rental townhouse.

Our huge presence at the DPA conference is just a taste of what people can expect from the upcoming SSDP international conference in San Francisco, CA, March 12-14, 2010.

Check out the videos of students from around the country who are looking for some scholarship funds to make it out to our conference.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Iowa SSDPer Engages Senator Grassley in Op-Ed

University of Iowa SSDP chapter leader, Marni Steadham, has not only gotten an excellent Op-Ed published in the Des Moines Register, but also succeeded in eliciting a response by US Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)!

Students can play a leading role in opening up an open, honest, and rational discussion of alternatives to the failed war on drugs...in the pages of their state's largest newspaper no less!

Marni's OP-Ed does an excellent job of balancing between being too caustic/presumptuous while still challenging Sen. Grassley:
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley proposed an amendment to the bill that would prevent discussion or even examination of the possibility that drugs, including medical marijuana, should be decriminalized or legalized. Grassley's weak justification for attempting to suppress these viable policy options is: "The point is, for them to do what we tell them to do." This assertion undermines the very purpose of the commission: For experts to recommend to the Senate alternatives to our current approach to incarceration, regardless of whether these findings conflict with our current "get-tough" approach.
Sen. Grassley's response contains some head-scratching logic:
Finally, I put forward an amendment to address the issue of decriminalization and legalization of any controlled substance. I filed this amendment in an effort to start a debate on this important issue.
While his amendment has sparked some debate on the pages of the Des Moies Register and admirable actions by groups like LEAP, it's hard to see how restricting a commission from considering what is arguably the most sensible means of reducing our prison population will allow for serious consideration of this "important issue."

An examination of decriminalization or legalization in a national commission would not preclude such a discussion in Congress. In fact, it may demonstrate to many legislators the increasing evidence from either our past or from overseas that these alternatives are not only effective at reducing the harms associated with drug use, but also can keep thousands of non-violent offenders from wasting their time and our money behind bars.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rhode Island Eliminates Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences

I have to say, I love my hometown of Rhode Island. We are showing the world how to create sensible policies surrounding medical marijuana and are reforming devastating mandatory minimum sentencing for drug possession - all through the legislature. All this despite a governor that has an itchy veto finger when anything calling for common sense drug policy hits his desk.

Set to take effect next month, RI will now allow judges to use discretion when deciding the appropriate sentence for a drug possession offender.

PROVIDENCE—A new law eliminating mandatory minimum drug sentences in Rhode Island has taken effect without the governor’s signature.

Similar measures had been vetoed in past years by Gov. Don Carcieri. But supporters say they compromised on this year’s legislation by removing a provision that placed a cap on the maximum sentence a judge could give for drug possession crimes.

The new law, which took effect this month, leaves the sentence to the judge’s discretion.

Under the old law, anyone caught manufacturing, possessing or dealing up to one kilogram of heroin or cocaine, or up to five kilograms of marijuana, could face a minimum 10-year sentence.

I think it's no coincidence that the RI state motto is HOPE.

Transform drug policy foundation, a UK think tank, recently released a report that details various models of regulation in a post-prohibition world. It's all too common for opponents of the war on drugs to criticize current drug policy without giving proper consideration to a more effective paradigm. The report, entitled "After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation," provides drug policy reformers with a variety of useful responses to the question, "What would the world be like after drug prohibition?"

Prohibition allows drugs to be supplied by criminals, who routinely use violence to secure maximum possible profits. Additionally, the buyer is deprived of the information and resources that would reduce the harms associated with drug use.

On the other end of the spectrum, the "hands-off" or laissez-faire approach, would end the black-market violence that prohibition inspires but would also prevent the implementation of important harm-reduction policies. Legalization and regulation is essentially a marriage between the absolutist positions of prohibition and laissez-faire.

The report discusses the options for regulating drugs and makes recommendations for each individual drug. The options range from pharmacies distributing drugs, to various licensing schemes, to coffee-shop style sales. For cannabis, the report recommends the licensing of coffee-shops to distribute and provide users a place for consumption. Additionally, the THC content would be clearly indicated on the packaging and prices would be set by the government. For cocaine, the report recommends that the drug be sold only to licensed users by a pharmacy-style business, possibly with the requirement of a prescription.

Even if you don't agree with the specific recommendations that the author makes, these post-prohibition ideas provide valuable fodder for thinking about a world without the war on drugs.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

LEAP Tells the DEA What's Up About Marijuana Scheduling

Last week the American Medical Association (AMA) announced its support of removing marijuana from Schedule I status. The AMA has refused to budge on this for a long time now, and opponents of marijuana law reform often cite the organization’s stance in their argument that pot prohibition is a good thing.

The DEA hasn't made a stink about the announcement but I highly doubt they're happy about it. Yesterday, however, the agency removed that particular bulletpoint from its list of reasons why pot should remain illegal.

What made them take down the bulletpoint? I doubt they were worried about misinformation since the rest of the website is full of it. I think it was Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of police officers, judges, lawyers, and many other law-enforcement officials who oppose drug prohibition. LEAP organized a letter-writing campaign to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting the site be updated and bam! it was taken down a week later.

I guess I'm left to wonder, if the DEA were truly transparent, as it claims to be, wouldn’t it not only remove the previous AMA position but replace it with the association’s new stance?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Drug Policy Reform Conference Withdrawal

After five days of being surrounded with over 1,000 like-minded drug policy reformers at the 2009 Drug Policy Alliance conference, it's easy to forget that the entire world isn't filled with people who accept the beauties of logic and reasoning when talking about drug policy.

If you haven't seen it yet, check out Ethan Nadelmann, Drug Policy Alliance's Executive Director, making his opening speech at the conference.

Ethan Nadelmann: "Right now the wind is at our back" from Hungarian Civil Liberties Union on Vimeo.

I'm not sure if anyone's talented enough to put into words how inspiring a conference like this one is, but to say the least, I'm counting down to SSDP's 2010 International Conference. Sign up now to receive updates about scholarship opportunities!

See you there!!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's About Time! AMA Calls for Review of Marijuana Schedule

"Our American Medical Association (AMA) urges that marijuana's status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines," the AMA's statement (PDF) reads. "This should not be viewed as an endorsement of state-based medical cannabis programs, the legalization of marijuana, or that scientific evidence on the therapeutic use of cannabis meets the current standards for a prescription drug product."
If for some reason you haven't been convinced that the marijuana legalization and regulation movement currently has more momentum than ever before, the above statement should be convincing enough. It signals the common sense understanding that at the very least, the scheduling of marijuana should allow for scientific research.

The last time the American Medical Association criticized the prohibition of marijuana was in 1937, when the plant was made illegal through the Marijuana Tax Act. The new statement comes on the heels of a medical marijuana victory in Maine and the legalization of marijuana for adults in Breckenridge, CO. Let's not forget the Gallup poll showing 44% of American's support legalizing pot and the new memo from the DoJ telling the feds to back off those in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.

I don't need any more convincing - marijuana law reform is happening. I'm in Albuquerque, NM for the Drug Policy Alliance International Drug Policy Reform Conference. Getting off the plane at ABQ, I headed down to the baggage claim to see a huge blue banner welcoming the DPA conference attendees to Albuquerque. Thanks Albuquerque.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Tim Lincecum Arrested on Marijuana Charges

Tim Lincecum, pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, was arrested this week for possession of marijuana and a pipe after being pulled over for speeding. He'll only have to pay a fine for paraphernalia possession and speeding however.

I like Tim Lincecum. I get the same warm and fuzzy feeling watching him pitch that I used to get watching Roger Clemens pitch for the Red Sox. At only 25 years old, Lincecum is one of the best pictchers in the NL and MLB. In 2008 alone he won the Cy Young Award, was named the MLB Starter of the Year, and led the MLB in strikeouts. Quite a year.

Good thing we have marijuana prohibition and government hysteria to stop our youth from turning out like Tim Lincecum and Michael Phelps!

SSDP's office is located literally across the street from AT&T Park. Maybe Tim can join us at SSDP's conference in March?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

All Aboard the Oxycontin Express

The Oxycontin Express

The above special is part of Current TV's vanguard series and examines the legal and illegal market for prescription pills like oxycodone while telling the story of an oxycodone addict and his family in Broward County, Florida, where the Oxycontin Express begins its travel to Appalachia. It focuses on the ease in which people are able to legally purchase large amounts of pharmaceutical drugs there. Overall, I like the special and think it is fairly objective in showing the diversion of pharmaceutical drugs, the toll of addiction, and intentional or not, the shortcomings of law enforcement in drug policy.

Still, the documentary lacks any information about the legitimate uses for these drugs. It almost certainly incites a sense of worry and hysteria in those who haven't heard much else about this problem. There is no discussion of possible solutions other than the underlying suggestion that increasing law enforcement resources is the only answer. No treatment facilities are explored and no treatment or addiction professionals are interviewed.

The problem

DEA officials say doctors in Broward County wrote prescriptions for more than 6.5 million oxycodone pills from June to December 2008, making it the nation's top supplier. In under 2 years, 70 pain clinics opened in Broward and Palm counties. These clinics write the prescriptions and some also sell the drugs they prescribe. Because the state has no pill tracking system, patients doctor shop. Doctor shopping refers to patients with a prescription going from pain clinic to pain clinic to get their prescriptions filled and often coming away with thousands of pills because without a tracking system there is no way for a pharmacy to know if scripts have already been filled. Florida's governor, Charlie Crist, signed a bill earlier this year that would set up a pill tracking system for the state but it won't take effect until next year.

In Florida, an average of 11 people die every day from prescription drug overdoses. In Kentucky, 877 people died of overdoses last year.

There is a problem with how many pills are being handed out but I'm not convinced that these pain clinics need to be shut down. They provide an alternative to street drug dealing which is more dangerous and leaves money going only to criminals. As the special documents an addict's attempts to buy the drugs from a pain clinic, he is unable to do so and must go to a friend's home where he is sold 30 pills from a 70 year old grandmother. So as crooked as these places are painted to be (and I have no doubt some of them are) others are following what rules are in place. And it isn't until we see the pills leaving the state of Florida where they become significantly valuable. In other states where obtaining the drug is not as easy, pills can be worth 10x what they are bought for in Florida. A bottle of pills bought for $500 can be worth $5,000 in Kentucky. That's money worth protecting. In the attempt to rid their communities of this diversion, the police focus on arresting small time dealers and addicts, a common short fall of the U.S. war on drugs.

The addicts and the law

You'll meet Todd, a man whose addiction to oxycodone, which he smokes, persists even after his brother and wife died from overdoses. You'll briefly meet Terry, another oxy addict who sells small amounts of drugs to support his addiction and as he put it, "do what you gotta do to support your family." You'll also meet women incarcerated for selling prescription pills and a young couple who are convinced by police to sell them some medication outside a pharmacy in an undercover bust.

At the end of the day, are Todd and Terry (the man arrested for selling prescription drugs) and all of the women who are incarcerated, really people that belong behind bars? The sheriff of the Greenup says himself that the pill problem isn't getting any better - despite the fact that jails are overflowing with people convicted of prescription drug offenses. I took notice to the many marijuana posters in the sheriff's office. The America's Most Wanted (pot) poster, news articles covering the departments pot busts, and an old dried up pot leaf that likely came from a grow-op bust, show that he has been dedicated to fighting a war on drugs (or at least on marijuana) and not only has the drug problem not gotten better, its become worse. Even a neighboring county's deputy sheriff was recently arrested for distributing oxycontin.

These areas need better treatment and prevention services not just more law enforcement. When you look at Todd's unsuccessful attempts to quit oxycodone which includes 7 visits to rehab and 15 detoxes, you begin to realize the seriousness of this addiction. I don't see the problem as being these clinics alone. In fact, I think the legalization of drugs with strict regulations (varying for different substances) is a smart move but isn't the answer to our addiction problems. It is the answer to taking away funds from criminal enterprises and taking a market that unfortunately isn't going away and putting into a regulated and controlled system. The problem I see with the prescription drug distribution profiled in this video, is that there is not a pill tracking system. Furthermore, the police are focused on busting small time drug addicts. The couple busted in the special faces a 3 year mandatory minimum sentence after being convinced to sell some of their drugs to an undercover police officer pretending to be someone in serious pain but unable to get their prescription filled. I think this is ineffective and inhumane, and does little to stop the diversion of drugs. Even the police admit this is just a drop in the bucket and I think it's a waste of their resources. I also think these arrests just make the problem worse. Now you have addicts who can't get a job, who will use drugs in jail, who will lose their families, and who will lose their support systems (if they even have any). They just end up more likely to continue using.

Just last week, Kentucky law enforcement arrested more than 300 people in the largest prescription drug bust that the state has ever seen. Those arrested are accused of creating a "pipeline" for pharmaceutical diversion, doing exactly what is shown in the Current TV special. That is a huge bust but it's unlikely to have any long lasting effect.

I have to say I found it ironic as Mariana van Zeller, the narrator of this special, lights up a cigarette outside one of the pain clinics. Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs in the world, right up there with opioid addiction and the drug kills far more people than oxy's ever will, even with the Oxycontin Express. But no one is suggesting she belongs in prison, nor should they be. Hulu has a blog interview about the special with Mariana van Zeller who is originally from Portugal. Some irony here as well. Portugal decriminalized the use of all drugs and since then has seen a reduction in drug addiction, overdose deaths, HIV rates, drug use/abuse, and an increase in those who seek treatment for their addictions - all outcomes the U.S. could only dream of obtaining.

So if we can't get rid of the drugs all together, what can be done? Ponder the question: What is so wrong about allowing drug addicts to buy drugs?

Harm reduction.

Harm reduction information is so incredibly important to these areas. Abstinence is absolutely the best way to go if you want to avoid all of the possible harms associated with drug use; there is no surer way to steer clear of addiction or overdose. But just like with sex education, the abstinence only messaging isn't working. These communities need improved information on the harms associated with prescription drug abuse including dosage guidelines and accurate descriptions on dangerous drug combinations.

Good Samaritan policies could likely save the lives of many people in states like Kentucky, especially young people. If young people are going to be severely punished for calling 911 when a friend overdoses, you can expect it to be unlikely that they will make such a life saving call. Instead you have needless situations like this:
Karen Shay, a dentist in Morehead, Ky., also knows too well the cost and pain of prescription drug abuse. Two years ago, her 19-year-old daughter, Sarah, died from an overdose after partying with friends, who dropped her body off at a hospital and drove away.
What's the government's response to all this? To his credit, the new director of the ONDCP, Gil Kerlikowske has admitted that America's largest drug problem is pharmaceutical abuse. Under the reign of Drug Czar John Walters, you would have heard marijuana was the real threat. The House Appropriations Committee also reduced the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign's yearly funding by 71% from $70 million to $20 million - a smart move considering that the focus of the ads has been almost entirely on marijuana use among youth and that they have been shown to be ineffective and even counterproductive. I'm not opposed to having PSA's on the dangers of drug abuse. They seem to have helped in reducing tobacco use among young people and we didn't have to arrest a single person to do so. If the ONDCP's ads on prescription drug abuse are realistic and evidence based, they could help to steer young people away from abusing and even using drugs like oxycodone. If harm reduction information is made accessible than those who do choose to use may make smarter choices about their use.

There needs to be acceptance that such a problem will never go away completely and that drug free communities, and countries, and schools are simply impossible to achieve. The prime example of this; America can't even keep drugs out of our prisons. This is not a problem we can arrest our way out of and it's a problem that will likely come and go in waves.

Here is an excerpt from a report by the Human Rights Coalition on New York's prison system and drug treatment services. Drugs can't be kept out of the prisons and if you're an addict who gets caught using, you'll end up in solitary confinement (the box) and be denied treatment even if it is available.
Meet Nathan. He was identified as needing drug treatment when he entered the New York state prison system with a 16-year sentence. But because prisoners close to their release date get treatment first, Nathan faced the possibility of years in prison without help for his drug problem.

When he continued using drugs in prison, he was sentenced to the box, though no violent or other disruptive behavior was involved. With each relapse, he received harsher punishment. When we interviewed Nathan, eight years after he entered prison, he was serving a 34-month sentence in the box -- 14 months for one drug-related incident and 20 months for another. He had never received any drug treatment.

In New York, prison officials say that three of four inmates need substance abuse treatment. Treatment programs are filled to capacity. As inmates wait months, even years, for treatment, many are caught in a Catch-22: at high risk of relapse, but punished and denied access to treatment if they do.

Is there a solution? I think there are combinations of solutions; incremental changes that can be made to rework this system of pill distribution. But I don't think locking more people up and ignoring treatment resources while funding futile law enforcement attempts is going to get us anywhere. This special has done a great job at shedding light on the situation but I wish they hadn't almost exclusively interviewed police and politicians as experts on how to fix it.

It has been ingrained into our minds, and you can see this in the Current TV special, that drug addicts are considered bad people and the only way to deal with them is to get tough on drugs. Just look at Todd. His brother dies from an overdose. His wife dies from an overdose. He's pretty much lost everything. Yet he still uses the same drug and is stuck In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. And there are countless others who are brothers, sisters, moms and dads and they're addicted to all sorts of drugs, to gambling, to sex, to food. Where should they be sent? The box?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

NH Medical Marijuana Bill is Vetoed

The NH Senate wouldn't budge on overriding Gov. Patrick Lynch's veto of the law which had passed both the House and Senate earlier this year. The 14-10 vote was in favor of the bill but didn't give the 2/3 majority needed for the override.

Matt Simon, executive director NH Compassion ran a fantastic campaign that brought medical marijuana legislation farther than it had ever been in the state. When Gov. Lynch said that he had 11 concerns with the bill that if left unaddressed, would leave him to veto the bill, NH Compassion compromised and addressed all of the points. Still, Lynch carried out this veto threat despite medical marijuana legalization having the support of 71% of NH residents.

SSDP chapters at Franklin Pierce University, Keene State College, UNH, Southern NH University, and Nashua High School South did all they could to draw attention to the need for legislation to help protect sick and dying NH residents who found marijuana helped to improve their quality of life.

For the past year, NH Compassion told the stories of numerous ill people in NH and the positive impact medical marijuana has had on their lives. Sadly, one of those NH residents, Scott Turner, passed away before the override vote had happened. Please read more about the patients that Gov. Lynch and NH Attorney General Kelly Ayotte believe NH should waste tax dollars and law enforcement resources to put behind bars.

We'll be back to ensure that these people will not face arrest for trying to improve their lives.

A huge thank you from SSDP goes out to Matt Simon and all NH medical marijuana patients.

SSDP Testifies at CA Marijuana Legalization Hearing

Yesterday at the California State House in Sacramento, members of Students for Sensible Drug Policy attended the state's first hearing on the regulation and taxation of cannabis.

Alex Woon and Kraig Negrete of the San Jose State University chapter joined UC Berkeley chapter members Matt Kintz, Rishi Malhotra, and alumni Suzy Sim to witness the hearing and give a 30 second "elevator argument" on why they support taking marijuana out of the black market and putting it into a legal and regulated system. I'm so proud to work with such bright and motivated students who took the time out of their day make sure that their voices were heard.

After attending the committee hearing and giving public opinion, we grabbed a quick lunch with our colleagues from DPA, MPP, CA NORML and others before running around the state house to lobby CA Assembly members for their support of AB 390.

Both Alex Woon and Rishi Malhotra gained lobbying experience last year when they attended SSDP's International Conference and Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. If you're interested in learning more about lobbying, be sure to RSVP for SSDP's 2010 International Conference in San Francisco, March 12-14.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Powerful Photos For Advocates of Reform

This is a special guest blog by SSDP intern and UMD SSDP chapter member, Greg Hansch

The Boston Globe recently released a grisly series of photos that portray many of the the negative consequences associated with drugs. Some photos show drug addicts living in meager conditions or attempting to piece their lives back together. Others depict people who were murdered as a result of their involvement in the drug trade. A third variety contains images of law enforcement attempting to eradicate drugs.

For proponents of the drug war, these images reinforce their narrow understanding: Drugs are harmful. Therefore, our public policies need to combat this scourge with punitive laws. And in one respect, they are right: drug abuse is a devastating problem for people all around the world.

However, drug war supporters fail to recognize that prohibition exacerbates the negative impact of drugs. Most of the murder victims shown were drug dealers killed in turf struggles with rival cartels. These murders currently plague Mexico because prohibition has made drug trafficking a massively profitable illicit industry. Cartels (who count on marijuana for 60% of their profits) are willing to use lethal force in order to secure their smuggling routes and distribution territories.

Law enforcement agencies around the world are engaged in an endless struggle to rid the world of drugs. Despite their efforts, drugs are still available all over the world and murder is commonplace among drug traffickers.

These graphic images are disturbing but necessary for our movement. They clearly illustrate that decades of drug prohibition have led to uncontrollable violence in Mexico, addicts who are unable to find treatment, and fruitless attempts at stopping the drug trade. Every day, more and more people are starting to interpret these images as a product of drug prohibition rather than drugs themselves.

I recommend you look at these photos and consider, "what terrible consequences are we willing to tolerate in the name of our ill-fated War on Drugs?" Supporters of our current drug laws need to own the horrible unintended consequences their preferred policy creates, and the general public needs to be cognisant of the multi-faceted, international consequences of the Drug War.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Keene Smokeouts Not Helping to Legalize Marijuana

I lived in Keene, NH for one year before moving to San Francisco to work for Students for Sensible Drug Policy. For 3 years before that I was going to to school at Franklin Pierce University, about 30 minutes from Keene. Recently some members of the Keene community have taken to the city's center at 4:20 in the afternoon to host "smokeouts" where they smoke marijuana to protest the plant's prohibition.

To be honest, I was surprised to see people smoking in Keene's center of town's Main Street. I was stunned to see the protest taken right into the police station. Still, I was more surprised at the behavior of the people in attendance who did more than just smoke marijuana in pubic. They called police officers names, stood in front of a police cruiser trying to drive away, hurled insults and even spit at Keene police.

Insulting police officers has nothing to do with legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana. Police officers have a job to do and arresting people for possessing marijuana is part of that job. If you intentionally draw the attention of the police department and then smoke marijuana in front of them, they have to arrest you. If this were a Utopian world or a Kevin Smith film, the police officer would of course quit his job on the spot and start smoking the joint with you - but it's not. When you show up in front of a police station in large numbers to smoke marijuana with plenty of video cameras aimed at the officers, what do you expect is going to happen? Would you quit a job during a recession?

I'm 110% on board with legalizing marijuana (just in case you haven't read anything I've written before). But the "protesters" took it to another level when they started being offensive. Their methods are simply ineffective at best and detrimental at worst.

I wonder how many of these people are aware that NH has passed a medical marijuana bill and that the bill was vetoed by Gov. Lynch. I would hope that they have all taken 5 minutes to write or call the Governor to say as a NH resident, "I disapprove of your veto of HB 648." I seriously wonder if any of them realize how close we are in NH to legalizing marijuana for some of the seriously ill people that need marijuana to live. As they call police pigs during the protest, I can't help to assume that most of these people probably have know idea that their county's superintendent of corrections happens to be a member of LEAP.

In college, my senior internship was with the Marijuana Policy Project's Granite Staters For Medical Marijuana campaign. The campaign followed around presidential candidates during the primaries and put them on the spot about medical marijuana. I got yelled at by John McCain and Mitt Romney. But more importantly I met NH residents like Clayton Holton and Linda Macia who used marijuana for their serious illnesses. I had never actually seen marijuana help people before that internship. Clayton suffers from muscular dystrophy and at the time was a 22 year old man who weighed about 88lbs. He couldn't eat or keep weight on. If he did eat, he got sick. Clayton was literally wasting away and had to live in a nursing home where he could not smoke marijuana but was instead given oxycontin.

I witnessed Clayton smoke just a small amount marijuana and eat himself a big hamburger and fries and keep it all down. Something he just couldn't have done without cannabis. From that day on - I was sold on medical marijuana. It just made no sense to me that this young man would be punished for trying to relieve his suffering and that my tax dollars would pay to punish him. It didn't make sense that police resources would be used to punish him in an effort to continue a prohibition policy that has failed since its inception and was passed largely because of corruption and outright lies in the first place!

NH Compassion is fighting for NH residents like Clayton and many others to have the right to use medical marijuana. Matt Simon, the campaign's Executive Director, outlines his concerns about the rallies in a letter to the editor published in the Union Leader. I echo his thoughts. The point that needs to be made is that we should be working together and following the instruction of a campaign that has been successful at getting the NH legislature to support medical marijuana. These smokeouts haven't done jack. If the veto stays or it's overturned - that's the time to for these protesters to get back out and do what they believe is right - but this is about strategy.

We have come a long way in NH friends. I ask that you put your efforts toward overriding the veto of HB 648, the medical marijuana bill, in a responsible and sensible way. Those serious about changing the law should contact NH Compassion and ask you can help out - and actually follow the advice you are given.

We are so close to protecting, at the very least, some seriously ill NH residents. I couldn't agree more that those who responsibly use cannabis for recreational purposes do not deserve to be criminals - but the people at the 420 rallies should realize that the freedom of those who use medical marijuana at the recommendation of their doctors to improve the quality of their life comes even before your right to get high in the middle of the street.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

80% of Puerto Rico Murders Called Prohibition-Related

The title actually read "Drug-Related." We know better. Just like the U.S-Mexican border, this isn't violence caused by people taking drugs and going out on murderous rampages. These murders are fueled by a desire to control the drug trade. Something that is worth quite a bit of money.
University of Puerto Rico researcher Hector Colon said that the island’s drug users collectively spend nearly $3 million a day to feed their habits.

Colon also said that keeping an addict incarcerated costs between $28,000 and $30,000 per year, to which must be added other costs pertaining to medical attention when the inmates have AIDS or hepatitis.
The DEA, FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Puerto Rico police recently arrested 38 people on drug trafficking charges. It's estimated that about 30% of illegal drugs coming into the U.S. are coming from Puerto Rico and the islands. There is good reason for this:

As American soil, it is attractive because drugs leaving here do not have to clear customs to reach the U.S. market.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Thanks to Marie Claire, Pot Discussed Rationally on Today Show

Marie Claire magazine's recent article, Stiletto Stoners, has touched a nerve with professional women across the country. A recent study showed an estimated 8 million American women used marijuana last year (those are the ones that admitted to it) and we're not talking about the 16 year old girl buying grass in the school parking lot after she "discovered" Janis Joplin.

These professionals are living a fast paced lifestyle - they don't have time for alcohol, for hangovers, or spending nights barhopping. All points you'll find in Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink?

Sure, it's no surprise to most people that you can be successful and smoke marijuana. Just look at our past presidents... eh, on second though, look at Michael Phelps or Rick Steves. But Marie Claire doesn't stop there and touches on how pot prohibition has negative effects on families around the country that marijuana use alone could never have. Looking for life insurance to protect your family? Well, you'd better not test positive for even trace amounts of THC.

The Today show covered the article, bringing onto the show Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist at the New York University School of Medicine and Marie Claire editor-in-chief Joanna Coles to discuss the article and the "growing trend" of professional women smoking pot. The segment is definitely pro regulation and filled with common sense and honesty about responsible marijuana use by adults. It seems the discussion has made this demographic feel good about what they're doing. Watch the video to hear Dr. Holland get the last word.

Just like he did with the Michael Phelps interview, Matt Lauer plays devils advocate, acting as if he just can't believe that women who smoke marijuana are successful and contributing members of society and not the deflated, lazy stoners we see running over children on bikes in a Wendy's drive-thru (as seen on TV of course). He makes sure to ask about the "dark side" of this story and I think it's clear that there is a very dark side; marijuana is illegal even for responsible adults to use in the privacy of their own home after a hard day at work.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Attention Fellow Undergrads: I am a Sober Virgin

Here's an example of an attempt at harm-reduction gone terribly wrong:
MADD announces an exclusive license agreement with Hill Street Marketing Inc. to produce a line of alcohol-free beverages, MADD Virgin Drinks, which will provide American consumers with a delicious and socially responsible alternative to alcoholic beverages.

Cool. I'm down with non-alcoholic beverages (although I prefer a nice, frosty, alcoholic Guinness myself). I'm definitely NOT down with drunk driving. But whatever you think about alcohol, MADD, or this campaign, you have to admit that dubbing these beverages "virgin" is just a dumb marketing move.

After all, if you're trying to get 19 year old college guys to buy your product, you're not going to have much luck asking them to carry a bottle around a party with the word "virgin" on it.

Once again, this shows that MADD is entirely out of touch with the constituency they claim to protect, and is more interested in promoting prohibitionist, puritanical "values" than actually saving lives. They've made a product that might be popular with the already-cautious "abstinence-only" crowd, but will do nothing to actually reach those who are most likely to engage in risky behavior.

Whether or not you're a virgin, SSDP strongly recommends that you stay safe and sensible by carrying around some Screw the Drug War condoms... just in case.

[Thanks, Pete]

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cops Play Wii During Drug Raid

Survillence video from a Florida home shows police playing Wii bowling during a drug raid.
As investigators searched the home for drugs, some drug task force members found other ways to occupy their time. Within 20 minutes of entering Difalco's house, some of the investigators found a Wii video bowling game and began bowling frame after frame.
To be fair - Wii is pretty addictive. So I can understand why the officers spent a good hour of the drug raid glued to the TV. Isn't it ironic?

"Well, we were really bored" explained Det. Scruff McGruff, who was present during the raid. "Drug raids can take hours, but in this case, we finished up pretty quickly and just didn't feel like going back to work. Before we found the Wii, we were planning on snorting some of meth we confiscated and playing Duck Hunt with our real guns - thank God we found the Wii."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Amendment Withdrawn!

In short - we won the battle. Rep. Mark Souder withdrew his amendment to bar financial aid from students with drug possession convictions. He said " I was probably going to lose today."

This war ain't over though. A compromise to the amendment will be made in conference committee and it is expected that students convicted of felony drug crimes will still be unable to get aid for college. Still, this is a huge victory for us and we can expect significantly less students to be forced to drop out of school because a man from Indiana thinks they should be punished twice for the same crime.
You rock SSDP. You did this. It was your calls to congress. Your grassroots action. Your dedication to this organization and its mission for a fair and sensible drug policy. Look around on your campus. How many other student groups have been able to change federal law?
If you're feeling inspired, make a donation today to help us keep this momentum going!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tell Your Rep: "Vote No on Souder's Amendment"

That's right! We have a chance to change one of the most destructive drug policies ever created. The HEA Aid Elimination Penalty has denied financial aid for college to more than 200,000 students with drug convictions. However, the 2009 SAFRA would make it so that this law would only apply to those convicted of selling drugs. Considering that nearly 90% of marijuana arrests are for possession only - this is a huge victory! Sadly, Rep. Mark "sneaky snake" Souder (R-IN), who created the penalty in 1998, has introduced an amendment to strike out that reform. But we can stop it.

Here is what you need to do:

1) MAKE THE CALL: Dial the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Ask for your representative's office if you know his/her name. If you don't, simply give the operator your address. (Please be patient for an answer, as it sometimes takes several rings to get through. And be sure to leave a voice message if the staff is out for the day.)

2) SPEAK YOUR MIND: When the receptionist in your representative’s office answers the phone, politely say: “My name is ________ and I’d like my representative to vote against Representative Souder's Amendment to the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which denies educational opportunities to students with minor drug possession convictions. Blocking access to education causes more drug problems and hurts the economy. Thank you.”

3) SPREAD THE WORD: Forward this message to everyone you know! CLICK HERE TO SHARE ON FACEBOOK. Twitter this URL: http://ssdp.org/urgent

This is so easy folks. Anyone can do it. Don't believe me? Watch me do it!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A look inside a medical cannabis dispensary

Check out this video from our friends at Harborside Health Center:

I don't know how anyone can watch this and say that cannabis should continue to be prohibited and sold on the illicit black market.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Latin America and Reform

Check out this great piece on the move to decriminalize drugs in Latin America.
Bruno Avangera, a 40-year-old web designer from Tucumán in Argentina, pauses to relight a half-smoked joint of cannabis. Then he speaks approvingly of "progress and the right decision" by the country's seven supreme court judges, who decided last week that prosecuting people for the private consumption of small amounts of narcotics was unconstitutional.

"Last year three of my friends were caught smoking a spliff in a park and were treated like traffickers," he said. "They went to court, which took six months. One went to jail alongside murderers. The others were sent to rehab, where they were treated for an addiction they didn't have, alongside serious heroin and crack users. It was pointless and destroyed their lives."
Boy, that sure does sound familiar doesn't it? When I was working as a youth counselor that's exactly how I felt. I loved working with young people and helping them to better themselves but it was incredibly frustrating to see teenagers told they are addicts, and that they'll always be addicts, when the truth is - most were just kids experimenting with cannabis and were coerced into treatment because they got caught.

Its time for Latin America to stand up to U.S. drug war politicking. Countries are being torn apart by our demand for drugs - which will never go away. We have a clear choice: embrace harm reduction and legalization or continue to fund drug cartels and ignore real drug abuse problems in the U.S.

Former President of Brazil Calls for Global Cannabis Decrim

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil, is calling the war on drugs a failure and advocating for global cannabis decriminalization and the implementation of harm reduction policies.

"After decades of overflights, interdictions, spraying and raids on jungle drug factories, Latin America remains the world's largest exporter of cocaine and marijuana," Cardoso writes. "It is producing more and more opium and heroin. It is developing the capacity to mass produce synthetic drugs. Continuing the drugs war with more of the same is ludicrous."

Cardoso, a sociologist, said Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador had all now taken steps towards drug law liberalisation and that change was "imminent" in Brazil. The way forward worldwide would involve a "strategy of reaching out, patiently and persistently, to the users and not the continued waging of a misguided and counterproductive war that makes the users, rather than the drug lords, the primary victims," he added.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Drug War Gets Worse

Drug cartel members burst into a Juarez drug rehabilation clinic yesterday, lining up patients and executing 17 of them. On the same day, newly appointed ( 2 weeks ago ) deputy police chief Jose Manuel Revueltas, was killed in President Calderon's home state of Michoacan in western Mexico by heavily armed men in two vehicles just a few blocks from police headquarters.

How many Saint Valentine's Day Massacres do we need to witness before we end drug prohibition? I'm not feeling like ranting so here are some current highlights from the drug war:
  • 13,000 people have been killed since late 2006
  • Obama plans to give $1.4 billion to aid fighting drug cartels (aka, wasting tax dollars and increasing violence)
  • Ciudad Juarez has become the most violent city on earth.
  • In 2009 there have been 4,736 murders in Mexico
  • There have been 24,000 arrests in 2009 and the violence still continues

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

SSDP on the radio

UMD SSDP President Irina Alexander and I spoke on Midday with Dan Rodricks on WYPR radio (Baltimore's NPR affilliate - 88.1 FM) last Tuesday, August 25th.

The hour long segment covered the Higher Education Act Drug Penalty, zero tolerance policies, 911 Good Samaritan policies, and the Amethyst initiative.

Listen to us and let us know what you think of our performance!

As the school year begins, your local NPR stations might be interested to hear about your chapter's plans for the year. This could be a great opportunity to raise awareness and build local support for a campus change campaign or one of our national campaigns. You might also inspire sister chapters! Contact your outreach director for help on how to reach out to local media.

Josh Flynn at Towson University near Baltimore listened to us and is now starting a chapter there!

It's time for the children used to justify this Drug War speak up about its failure.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Argentina Decriminalizes Marijuana

I didn't realize it when I left for the first Latin American Conference on Drug Policy in Argentina a few weeks ago (scroll down a couple of posts for more), but the country was on its way to setting a historical precedent in creation of sensible drug policy. While it may not be Portugal or Mexico, the new law is undoubtedly the first step in a new approach for the South American nation.

The Supreme Court announced a UNANIMOUS ruling today that allows for personal use and possession of marijuana by adults in private situations without affecting third parties. It has deemed the current system invasive and corrupt, and a literal violation of constitutional privacy rights.

Of course, most of us realize that any government intervention regarding what we put into our own bodies is a violation of personal privacy. But isn't it nice to see formidable heads of government agreeing?

The court goes on to suggest that (gasp!) treatment for drug addiction is a more viable alternative to incarceration and that resources are better used fighting violent drug traffickers than low-level offenders.

The Chief Cabinet Minister Aníbal Fernández suggested the ruling signifies an "end of the repressive policies of the government against users."

A good day, indeed.

Students for "Sensible" Drug Policy

So we stumbled across this opinion piece on proposed reform of the HEA that would restore financial aid to students with drug possession convictions. The author is in favor of barring aid students with drug convictions.

Here's a breakdown and commentary of my favorite parts of this brilliant piece:
Remember the gigantic bust of students selling drugs this last spring? 75 students were busted selling marijuana, cocaine, and heroin out of several dorms and 5 Frat houses at San Diego State University.
I remember. That was the big drug bust that finally won the drug war wasn't it? Go on, go on...
How many former users, are now to be allowed student loans again, (eligible again because of the progressive Democrat majority)? How many will begin to use drugs while in college? How many convicted users will “relapse” due to the stress of college and grades? Are drug users stable and reliable in the first place? Is it right to make loans to former users going to school when they didn’t care about the importance of keeping a good record in the first place?
Those damn progressives! How dare those "convicted users" get a second chance? Are drug users stable enough to go to school? I can't believe this guy is serious. If I have a few beers with my dinner, am I not "stable" enough to go to work the next day? As you'll see in the new book, Marijuana is SAFER, alcohol causes many more problems to society and to a persons health than marijuana. So you should also support removing aid from those that drink alcohol. And if you can find me one person that isn't technically a drug user, we'll end this whole thing right now... Ok then, I'll keep going.
We have Democrat California Congressman George Miller, and 45 different cosponsors to thank for H.R. 3221; it overturns / reverses sections of the bill passed back in 1998 those sections were intended to keep drug use and drug dealers out of colleges. One has to wonder how the parents will feel about their children sharing a dorm room with a user or dealer.
Here's a newsflash: the bill didn't work! The HEA Aid Elimination Penalty did not work to keep drug dealers out of colleges, drugs off our streets or out of children's hands. If it did, students wouldn't be buying drugs or using them at the rate that you quoted: "Of 18 – 22 year old college students illicit drug use was at 37.5% - while non-student use for the same age group was 38.4%" And really, if this prohibition thing works so well, and we've been doing it for decades, why are drug use rates so high? Oh that's right... blame the progressives!
Kris Krane, (executive director) of Students for “Sensible” Drug Policy, (a pro-drug group) called the old law requiring the student to qualify by keeping clean, ”unfair because of double jeopardy” – and that it impacted students of color and low income more than others.

Other than users and legalizers, Adam Wolf, staff attorney for the ACLU and parents whose children began using drugs and lost their student loans over the last decade, would probably support reform.
So now SSDP is a "pro-drug group" and the Sensible in SSDP is in quotations. Gimme a break. I doubt he even read our mission statement. He couldn't have read it before calling us pro-drug. Calling us pro drug is about as ignorant as calling someone that is against the war in Iraq a terrorist.

This guy didn't do ANY research before writing this! Its really kind of funny! I mean, a simple google search of Aid Elimination Penalty bring ups CHEAR - The Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform which, aside from "users and legalizers" includes some of these organizations:

American Bar Association
American Council on Education
United States Student Association
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
United Church of Christ
Building Better Lives for Our Communities and Kids (Building BLOCK)
Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice
Center for Women Policy Studies
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Oh and about 390 other organizations and 115 student governments including:

Yale University (also has a scholarship program for students that have lost aid)
Brown University (also has a scholarship program for students that have lost aid)
Franklin Pierce University
Columbia University
Dartmouth College
George Washington University

He ends it all with a fine piece of advice for learning about drug policy:
If you’re interested, there’s numbers of others … just go to the DEA website and search university students and drugs …
Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that?

That's all I've got for now.

First Latin American Conference on Drug Policy

Wow. I can’t believe it has been almost two weeks since I returned from my trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the very first Latin American Conference on Drug Policy was held August 7-8. I have finally recovered from my amazing adventures, and I am so motivated for the future of global drug policy. After my visit to Buenos Aires, it has become more than obvious to me that the United States lags far behind much of the world in dealing with drug-related problems. (Perhaps because we “deal with drug-related problems” by continuing the same failed prohibition strategies over and over?) Intercambios, the organization hosting the event, did an outstanding job of bringing some international rockstars together, and providing a space for the discussion of sensible drug policies. (Special kudos to Graciela Touzé and Pablo Cymerman!)

Probably the most inspiring thing to me about this conference was the involvement and investment of major political figures at the table. Drug policy is no third-rail issue in Latin America. The everyday, in-your-face reality of failed policy is too great for them to simply ignore. It's an issue to be discussed. And it's a world where people understand that health problems will never be solved with criminal justice solutions. Incredible!

The conference itself was held in a building of Argentina’s National Congress, and the media was everywhere on the first morning to capture the opening panel, which included the Chief Cabinet Minister, a Supreme Court Justice and a major House Representative (Anibal Fernandez, Eugenio Zaffaroni and Graciela Giannettasio). There is support from former President Nestor Kirchner and current President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner for favorable reform, and our conference packets were complete with a copy of the Commission on Drugs and Democracy signed off on by former presidents in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.

And the topic of the day in Argentina? Drug decriminalization. Following in the footsteps of Portugal and Mexico, Argentina is primed to unburden itself of thousands of needless crimes each year. Pending an upcoming Supreme Court decision, Argentine citizens may soon find themselves among a world elite of sensible countries.

I truly wonder how our politicians can be so far behind both their own people AND the rest of the world.

Still, this is a sexy topic, and not surprisingly the conference made all the evening news shows and the front pages of major papers. There were even some LaRouche supporters protesting outside. (Same crazies, different language.)

Truly, the quality of speakers was excellent from all over Latin America. Ministers, lawyers and health experts from several countries were in attendance, as were representatives from drug users’ and coca growers’ groups. And of course, I teamed up with my buddy Aram, from Youth RISE to make sure the youth had a space for discussion. (We don't have any SSDP chapters there yet, but the seeds have been planted!)

Even more impressive than the speakers, the conference itself was co-sponsored in part by the British and Dutch Embassies. There was a reception at the Dutch Embassy on Thursday evening, and I was invited to attend with all the conference speakers and organizers. It was, shall I say, “fabulous”? I tried to imagine all of these same important people at a reception in the US, celebrating sensible drug policy, but it seems like I will at least have to wait until Kerlikowske gets a dictionary. I sort of tongue-in-cheek asked the British Ambassador why the US Embassy wasn’t represented there with the other two. And in a truly British and diplomatic way, she explained that although they weren’t co-sponsors, the US Embassy had shown interest in and support of the conference. I think she may have been being polite, but I’m not going to let that stop me from encouraging them to be co-sponsors next year.

In any case, I was grateful to meet and mingle with all the good people working on these issues throughout Latin America - truly inspirational. The experience opened my eyes and helped me to appreciate the different approaches taken and perspectives held by not just one country, but an entire region of countries and cultures, all working toward positive change. I met so many amazing people I can't count them. But I would be remiss to not mention meeting legislator Elsa Conde Rodríguez. She is the woman who is responsible for introducing the Mexican drug decriminalization bill that just became official this week. (Raise your hand if this woman is your hero. Props to Elsa!)

So yeah. You can see why it took me some time to recover. I didn’t even mention all the other fantastic things I got to do in the meantime.

But in case it was in question - yes, I recommend a trip to Argentina.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Trey No Longer Down With Disease

Aside from setlist highlights, crunchy lot stories, and the occasional bitch & moan about hearing DWD at Shoreline and The Gorge, there's one thing that phish fans keep bringing up: Trey is sober. And they can hear it.

After being arrested on DWI and drug possession charges back in 2006 in New York, Anastasio was sent to drug court. Drug courts are a cost effective alternative to jail that produce lower recidivism rates than lengthy prison sentences. They're also more humane and aim to help people overcome drug addictions through substance abuse treatment and community service.

Anastasio recently graduated from the drug court program and is touting its effect on his life.
"I've been sober for two-and-a-half years," he says to applause. "My children are happy. In August, my wife and I will celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary. My band is back together with a sold-out tour. And in September I'll play a solo concert at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic."
He's also talking about the failure of the prison system for non-violent drug offenders.
Anastasio saw it first-hand when he missed an appointment and was sent to jail for two days. "I can tell you that behind bars there was rampant drug use," he says. "What's more, the people I met there spent their time blaming judges and lawyers for their circumstances. Not in drug court. In drug court, full responsibility rest with you and you alone."
If even Trey Anastasio can see that the drug war has failed so badly that we can't even keep drugs out of our jails and drug courts are proven to work at reducing spending, drug use, and crime rates, why aren't drug courts the staple? As usual, Ryan Grim hits the nail on the head.
Despite their proven effectiveness over the past two decades, drug courts have had to compete for dollars with the prison industry, and when it comes to lobbying might, the drug courts are outgunned. Despite the expense and ineffectiveness of locking people up, the U.S. continues to do it at rates higher than any other nation. Nationally, more than $60 billion was spent locking people up last year. States spend $65,000 on prison construction per inmate and another $23,876 annually to take care of the prisoner, according to the Pew Public Safety Performance Project.
While drug courts aren't a magic bullet, Anastasio is lucky to have been sent to drug court instead of prison and it's certainly admirable that he is speaking publicly about overcoming an addiction and his support for the program.

Mexico Decriminalizes Drugs

That's right:
MEXICO CITY — Mexico enacted a controversial law Thursday decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other drugs while encouraging free government treatment for drug dependency.

The law sets out maximum "personal use" amounts for drugs, also including LSD and methamphetamine. People detained with those quantities will no longer face criminal prosecution when the law goes into effect Friday.

This, of course, is great news. It means that Mexican citizens will no longer be imprisoned simply for choosing to put something into their bodies without harming anybody else. And if they get hooked on drugs, the government will provide treatment. It appears that Mexico is moving in the direction of a more humane way of dealing with drug use and drug users.

Still, decriminalizing drugs does absolutely nothing to stop the violence and corruption that is caused by drug prohibition. The only way we can take billions of dollars out of the hands of cartels is the same way we put Al Capone out of business in the 1930s. End prohibition and regulate drugs.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Obama: Better than Bush on drug policy, but by how much?

SSDP alum and current law professor, Alex Kreit, has a great piece on the American Constitution Society's blog, entitled "Assessing the Administration’s Evolving Drug Control Policy.". Here's a taste:
...for all the administration's faults, when one looks at the overall picture, I honestly don't think it would be hyperbolic to say that when it comes to federal drug policy, there has been more progress this calendar year than there was in the previous 25 years combined.

Still, one wonders whether the changes will be limited to narrow and specific issues like needle exchange funding or crack vs. powder sentencing, or whether the administration will seek more fundamental change.

By all measures, our current drug strategy has failed. It has been chiefly responsible for the explosion in our prison population and costs taxpayers billions each year. Yet, more than three times as many teenagers have tried marijuana in the United States than have in the Netherlands. And more kids say it is easier to buy marijuana than alcohol.

If we hope to get ourselves out of this mess, reforms on no-brainer issues like needle exchange, sentencing reform, and medical marijuana are a good start. But, ultimately, in order to dig ourselves out of the mess the failed "war on drugs" strategy has caused, we'll need to change our entire strategy to the problem of drug abuse.

Go read the whole thing.

The Drug War is Over!

In today's Washington Post:
Law enforcement officials announced criminal drug-trafficking charges Thursday against 43 people in the United States and Mexico, including suspected leaders of prominent cartels in a country that has been plagued with gun violence.


The indictments "demonstrate our unwavering commitment to root out the leaders of these criminal enterprises wherever they may be found," said U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

Awesome. All the evil doers have been defeated. No more drug abuse and no more drug trade violence now, right?

Let's call up George W. Bush and see if we can borrow his banner:

In all seriousness, this is very BAD news for the people of Mexico. All it means is that several very lucrative job openings have been created in a multi-billion dollar industry, and the job application process involves lots of bloodshed.

Trying to stop cartel violence by arresting cartel leaders is like trying to save the Titanic by punching more holes in it.

The Drug War Makes Us Stupid

A few days ago, SSDP's ED Micah Daigle received this email:
Dear Micah,

I think personally it is absolutely disgusting that you would have a story on Rachel Hoffman that comes to her defense. She was everything that was wrong with this situation. She was helping the war on drugs. I don't care how the police twisted her mind and told her things. The simple fact was she was an under cover informant. To support someone who helps ruin peoples lives is something that is supported by SSPD? Things like this are the sole fact I believe there are huge holes in your organization and truly no firm stance on any one subject. These reasons are the reasons are dismembered the chapter I started at Northern Illinois University. Please try to think about what you are supporting and who. YOU GUYS ARE SUPPORTING AN UNDERCOVER AGENT.

A concerned citizen
Micah shared the email with me and needless to say, it infuriated me at first. But then I realized that this is the mentality our drug policies produce. Here is someone who supports the reform of marijuana laws writing to us that SSDP is wrong because we supported Rachel Hoffman's family in what I consider to be one of the worst drug war tragedies to ever occur.

So what if she became an informant? She should have never been put in that position in the first place. Rachel Hoffman didn't have some cooked up plan to start putting people behind bars and the 2 murderers that she did agree to help arrest weren't her friends. She was scared and confused and being threatened with a jail sentence.

Rachel was not "everything that was wrong with this situation." Maybe the author of that email hasn't heard the story so I'll remind him of everything that went wrong with Rachel's situation:
  1. Marijuana is illegal.
  2. Non-violent drug offenders face jail time.
  3. Police waste resources, tax dollars, and man hours on people like Rachel Hoffman
  4. The police department asked Rachel to purchase 1,500 ecstasy pills, 2 ounces of cocaine, and a handgun (which was contrary to department policy as it opened the opportunity for the suspected criminals to explain the presence of the gun), using $13,000 cash in a buy-bust operation.
  5. The police knew the criminal history of the men she was supposed to meet.
  6. The police lost track of Rachel during the sting.
  7. She was murdered with the handgun the police sent her to purchase.
So go ahead and talk the talk. Maybe you've even walked the walk. But to truly comprehend both effective drug policy and personal liberty, you'll need to realize that the drug war has turned you into the same type of monster that it has turned the police department that blamed Rachel for her own death. You're the same as gang members and drug cartels that kill each other for snitching. You're mentality is the same as the 2 men that murdered her.

This is a human being. A human life. And yes, she did turn informant and that would have put 2 men behind bars. Two murderers behind bars that quite frankly belong right where they are.

Furthermore, Rachel's death spawned the creation of the Rachel's Law in Florida which "requires law enforcement agencies to (a) provide special training for officers who recruit confidential informants, (b) instruct informants that reduced sentences may not be provided in exchange for their work, and (c) permit informants to request a lawyer if they want one."