By Ellen Komp, Cannabis Culture - Friday, November 4 2011
- An estimated 2200 people, a record number, are attending this year's Drug Policy Alliance conference at the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles.
The event opened this morning at a rousing session lead by DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann, who introduced California's Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom to an appreciative crowd.
Newsom welcomed the group to the "wacky, wonderful" state of 37 million "dreamers, doers and entrepreneurs." He recognized that California lead the way to reform in 1996 with the passage of Prop. 215, legalizing medical marijuana, and with the 2000 passage of Prop. 36, to offer drug treatment instead of incarceration to low-level offenders. Newsom said Prop. 36 has saved California $2.5 billion.
In 1980, Newsom pointed out, the U.S. incarcerated half a million prisoners; that number has swollen to 2.3 million today as the US cages 25% of the world's prisoners. In California, the prison budget has soared from 3% of the budget in 1980 to 11.2% today, even as the CSU and UC college systems, once the "tent pole" of the state's economy, receive only 6.6% of the budget. He noted that 2/3 of those imprisoned are probation or parole violators, and wondered aloud how many of those violations were for drugs.
"At what point is this not code red?" Newsom asked. "What the hell are we doing?"
Newsom, who took a huge hit from the right when he came out for same-sex marriage after taking office as mayor of San Francisco, joked that his progressive staff wondered what the hell he was doing at the DPA conference, adding that drug policy made gay marriage seem easy.
"We're risk-averse in politics," Newsom said, allowing that he fell prey to that syndrome. "We have courage after we leave office."
Newsom said he felt like he was reliving earlier federal medical marijuana raids as he mentioned the latest US actions in Fresno, Sacramento, and elsewhere in California. He called for the state to step up against federal encroachment, saying we need to move beyond the "framework of fear" with "leadership, stewardship, constancy and faith."
"If you could take record private conversations [on this issue], it would break your heart," he said. "We know better, we're just not doing better." He spoke more, but his words were drowned out by thunderous applause.
Pete White from the LA Community Action Network spoke next, opening his speech by quoting Frederick Douglas: "I spent 20 years praying for freedom, but it wasn't until I I started praying with my legs that freedom came." White added, "As we occupy our country, we are using our legs." He called the WOD "a full-scale moratorium on our civil rights." He noted that in nearby Skid Row, the "most intense and sustained war on poverty and addiction" is taking place with "tools more sinister than usual." Drug convictions in LA lead to bans on housing and other benefits, sometimes for life, because of the actions of the LA city attorney's office. Quoting Douglas again when he said slaves were expected to sing, he ended with Malcom X's quote, "Stop singing and start swinging."
Alice Huffman, chair of the California chapter of the NAACP, came out next to announce, "NAACP is in the house." Huffman, who just joined the board of directors of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), said, "I am sick and tired of my people being the pawns in a stupid war." She called for the group to "elevate your movement to embrace us and fight injustice."
Former New Mexico governor and Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson next took the stage, and brought up the recent Gallup poll that showed 50% of Americans are for marijuana legalization. "Yet, 0% of politicians are for legalization," he noted. "Is there any other area where there is this disconnect?" Johnson predicted a 75% drop in border violence in Mexico with legalization, yet the government's solution is to add even more guns at the border.
You don't see Johnson in the Republican debates because candidates are invited to those based on their poll results. However, the polls that CNN and other networks use haven't included Johnson's name. Instead buffoons like Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry, and relics like Rick Santorum have their silly say, and progressives must hold their noses at Ron Paul's anti-abortion stance to find a Republican candidate who supports marijuana legalization.
Nadelmann wrapped up the opening panel by sounding a theme of inclusiveness. "We are old, young and in between; black, white and in between; gay, straight and in between; drug users and non users, and in between."
"We are people who want the right to get high or have been enlightened by psychedelics; people who have seen the worst that drugs can do, and see that that prohibition only makes things worse; and also people who don't really care, they just want our fundamental freedoms back. We love, hate, or don't give a damn about drugs, but we all believe the War on Drugs is wrong."
He singled out prosecutors as the worst drug warriors of all, saying, "DAs and prosecutors are out of control in American society and have to be called out." He noted that mandatory minimum sentences take control away from judges and give it to prosecutors, who do what they will regardless of "public opinion, health, safety or decency."
Saying he dreams of someday seeing a drug war truth & reconciliation commission like South Africa had after apartheid, Nadelmann used the automobile as an example of a substance that society has learned to live with and make safer due to intelligent, harm reduction policies.
The conference continues through Saturday, with panels, breakout sessions, community meetings and field trips. An "End the Drug War" rally in MacArthur Park is taking place tonight. See more at http://www.reformconference.org/
Ellen Komp is Deputy Director of California NORML and a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture. She manages the website VeryImportantPotheads.com and blogs at Tokin Woman.