Over the course of the first November weekend, the Drug Policy Alliance held its 2011 International Drug Policy Reform Conference at a sprawling LA hotel. Over 1200 activists from from across the globe attended to discuss the worldwide battle against prohibition and share the kind of information and know-how that will be necessary for the ultimate success of progressive drug law reform. The convention featured a diverse cross section of the anti-prohibition movement, with American student groups like SSDP and law enforcement organizations like LEAP met and mingled with their international counterparts. Elected officials, social workers and drug war victims shared their stories individually and through multiple, often simultaneous, discussion panels. Marijuana reform was, as expected, the most discussed subject across the board.
The conference got started with a bang as pro-marijuana presidential candidate Gary Johnson once again affirmed himself as one of the lone sane political voices in the Republican political landscape and called for marijuana legalization and prisoner amnesty for cannabis offenders. “Since 1970, almost 20 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana offenses, with the vast majority arrested for simple possession,” Johnson told the highly supportive audience, “after several decades, can anyone honestly say that our country is a better place as a result of having labeled those 20 million people as criminals?” The former governor also pledged to remove marijuana from the controlled substances list and to pardon individuals federally convicted of marijuana possession should he become president.
The candidate also attacked the political establishment for refusing to listen to the people. “Polls show that at least half the American people today have come to the same conclusion I came to as Governor of New Mexico: That the prohibition of marijuana in this country makes no more sense than the last Prohibition did,” said Johnson. “[Politicians] all talk about border violence and adding guns to the equation instead of looking at the root of the problem, which is prohibition,” he added.
Activists and politicians form the other side of the border were also present in abundance and sought to make mexico’s desperate plight heard. Former Chihuahua congressman Victor Quintana told audiences that that over 5200 people had been killed in his state in 2010, up from 407 in 2007. “If the US had the same murder rate, that would be 400,000 dead in one year,” he said. Quintana called the situation in his country “an authentic genocide” where “America sends the guns and money, and Mexico gets the deaths.” He further asserted the complicity of the Mexican government saying that that “we face not only the violence of organized crime, but the violence of the state.”
El Paso University professor Zulma Mendez demanded action from Americans pointing out that “the bloodshed here is related to Plan Merida,” the anti-drug trafficking agreement between the US and Mexico signed by President Bush. “US taxpayers are funding this to the tune of $2.5 billion. People in the US should demand an end to Plan Merida,” he said, “US citizens can demand drug reform and revision of weapons policies and immigration and asylum policies.” Meanwhile, poet and journalist Javier Sicilia, whose son was murdered earlier in the year, called the situation “demonic.” During his powerful testimony he said that “if we were to put a human face on the suffering, it would be something we could not bear,” and argued that indeed “we are all responsible for these crimes against humanity because they are done by our governments.”
Considering that the conference occurred in California, it should come as no surprise that much of the discussion focused on the recent government offensive against the state’s medical marijuana program. Don Duncan from Americans for Safe Access argued that the “historic backlash against medical marijuana” was “a result of our success,” and called for “the legislature to adopt statewide regulations to protect safe access.” He added that there is an urgent need “to authorize storefront distribution, protect cultivators, and protect the civil rights of patients.” San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano declared that “it’s time to get militant. There is a pro-marijuana vote, it’s bipartisan, and it’s populist.” As if to prove his point, Orange County Republican Assemblyman Chris Norby asserted that “very few, even in my party, still believe in Reefer Madness.”
These are only a few highlights from the massive 4-day affair which covered everything from the failure of anti-drug education like the D.A.R.E. program to strategies for cannabis entrepreneurs and the latest findings in psychedelic research. This conference was also the largest one yet and proof positive that the global anti-prohibition movement is growing into the kind of of political force that can sand up to the international, US led, War on Drugs. More and more politicians, including high ranking officials and even former presidents, are turning into activists and calling for an end of decades of a pointless, unjustifiable and ultimately impossible pursuit. There is definitely reason to be optimistic about the future.
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