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February 27, 2006

How to end the war on drugs

Amanda of Pandagon often says that the far right taught us everything we need to revolutionize society. I agree. The Repubican Noise Machine and What's the Matter With Kansas have strongly influenced my thinking on tactics for drug sanity.

This is a post about concrete action to help end the drug war while where a minority that's out of power. Obviously, if we retake control of Congress in 2006, or the White House in 2008 all kinds of new options will become available. But here's what we can start doing right away.

1. Local action. The religious right wasn't afraid to start small. At first, they started taking over school boards, city councils, and other relatively low-profile offices. We could use a similar approach improve drug policy. If we can get accurate drug education materials into school health curriculums, we'd help protect the next generation from drug abuse and help diffuse the hysteria that fuels the drug war. At this point, it's probably not realistic to run school board candidates on "accurate drug information" platforms, but we progressives should still try to build relationships with progressive local politicians.

Depending on the jurisdiction, local authorities may have even more direct control drug policy. For example, if judges and prosecutors are elected in our area, these races would be a logical place to start agitating for change. In some places, coroner and medical examiner are elected offices. These officials don't necessarily set policy but they can have a significant impact by calling inquests, interacting with the media, liaising with law enforcement, etc.

2. Another way to leverage power for drug sanity is to forge deeper ties with existing institutions. The key is to cultivate alliances based on common interests. As usual, there's a union angle here. First off, most unions are unfriendly to random workplace drug testing. It's intrusive and unreliable and it gives management an excuse to fire people. Second, teachers' unions are among the most powerful unions in America. Teachers are acutely concerned about the health and well-being of young people, and many are in a position to see how the current drug policies are failing young people.

Those of us who are already union members can get involved directly. Otherwise, reform-Democrats can raise drug issues as part of our general outreach to the unions.

3. As the friends of Intelligent Design discovered in the 20th century, it is vital to cloak your radical ideal in a mantle of legitimacy in order to gain widespread acceptance. We want to make sane drug policy the conventional wisdom. One way to do that is to fostering more think tanks and research organizations like The Drug Policy Alliance. We need to hire people with academic credentials to create policy reports, scholarly books, and popular resource materials. We must also train these experts to be media savvy and to present their views forcefully in the mainstream media. Thinktanks can also sponsor innovative educational and outreach programs. For example, essay contests or conferences on alternative drug policy solutions for criminal justice majors.

4. Approaching the mainstream media. Write letters to the editor about drug issues your local paper. Don't pull punches, but don't forget to offer praise where it's due. If a reporter does an especially good piece, send them an email of congratulations.

5. Blog. Here are a few bloggers who are doing outstanding work on drug war issues: TalkLeft, Drug War Rant, and Grits for Breakfast. Feel free to suggest your favorite voices of reason in the comments below.

Keep those post requests coming. Thanks so much for your support.


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Majikthise has some thoughts about the "War on Drugs" where she is proposing to adopt the techniques of the "far right" to get her vision implemented - I'm not going to quote it because you should read it all. I think this is a great idea and one tha... [Read More]


Another weblog that's been writing a great deal about drug war issues lately is Radley Balko's:

He is a libertarian with the Cato institute. He's been researching how the War On Drugs harms America.

Related is the series of stories he's done on Cory Maye, a young black man in Mississippi now on death row because the police broke into his home in the middle of the night as part of a drug raid and he, not knowing the intruders were police, fired at them to protect his baby daughter:

Also you can simply talk about it with people you meet. I've had productive conversations with people about Marijuana legalisation/decriminalisation in quite unusual circumstances. Often the conversation starts with the other person rejecting the idea based on negative stereotypes of users, but usually they swing around to accepting the idea when you point out that simply disliking a person doesn't justify passing laws against their activities if the activities don't harm others. It also helps to point out that pot being illegal makes it easier for kids to get it, not harder. Liquor regulations help keep booze out of the hands of teens, but a crook will sell to anyone.

I'm looking forward to a Time or Newsweek cover, someday, with a lab-coated scientist holding a specimen of Cannabis Sativa, and the headline "Is Pot Really Dangerous?"

Once the legalization side becomes legitimate in the eyes of mainstream opinion, it won't be long until we win the debate.

Lindsey, when you say "...if we retake control of Congress in 2006, or the White House in 2008 all kinds of new options will become available," who do you mean by "we"? Democrats? Are you sure? I can remember looking forward to a period of enlightenment towards drug use when Clinton took office. But he did nothing to stop the War On Drugs. In fact, federal involvement in local drug enforcement increased under his term. If we want the Democrats to do something about the War On Drugs, we're going to have to push them hard.

Windy - The initial impetus for the Reagan-era drug war extremism came from Democrats trying to look tough for the elections in 1986 and 1988. The Democrats are no better on drug policy than the Republicans on average. There are sensible voices on both sides, but they are drowned out by the prohibitionists. I think it's actually more likely that the Republicans would do something to de-escalate the war on drugs, since they have a stronger libertarian wing than the Democrats do.

togolosh - What really gets me is that the War On Drugs is all about big government hurting poor minorities. If you put a bunch of social-justice Democrats in a room with a bunch of small-government Republicans, probably the only thing they'd agree on is scaling-down the War On Drugs. Yet because of all the other differences, they don't seem to be able to get anything done.

Since Lindsey asked us to post links to other anti-drug-war sites, I should probably mention these:

Last One Speaks, who just now points out that the Wall Street Journal is bashing thw war on drugs:

The D'Alliance, the Blog of the Drug Policy Alliance:

"I'm looking forward to a Time or Newsweek cover, someday, with a lab-coated scientist holding a specimen of Cannabis Sativa, and the headline "Is Pot Really Dangerous?""

That already happened, a very long time ago. I was a little kid. That would have been late 70s or early 80s. My older brother used to grow pot in his closet. He had grow lamps in there, and grew two huge plants of Columbian. My folks knew about it and didn't mind, they were very liberal. One of the major news weeklies came out with a headline about like what you propose. It was a big deal at the time. My brother felt vindicated. The family talked about it at dinner.

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