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.