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DPA Conference Arrival and Opening Plenary

Hello Drug War Rant community! I am proud to be guest blogging here while attending the Drug Policy Alliance conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico and will do my best to cover the conference. Plus, I will try to throw in a few rants and peripheral commentary just to keep things in tune with the Drug War Rant philosophy.

For example, the last DPA conference involved Pete and myself driving from central Illinois to New Orleans and the changes in weather and terrain during that  journey were remarkable. I left Sycamore, Illinois in the middle of an ice storm to drive three hours to meet Pete and then proceed to New Orleans. The sharp contrast of starting the travel day out in full winter gear and treacherous driving conditions only to conclude the day arriving in New Orleans on a warm and humid night will always stick with me.

This time I flew to the conference and am attending it with my girlfriend, Tamara, who is on the Board of Directors for the Illinois Cannabis Patients Association. I will try to utilize her input in drafting these posts as well. We got into Albuquerque last night around 10 o’clock and the food options at that hour were very limited. I did some wandering and came across a hot dog stand and was extremely please with the $3 green chili chicken burrito that was recommended. If I see the cart out again anytime these next few days I will get another because the burrito was impressive, taste wise, not size.

This morning the conference began, it is being held at the convention center here and we’re staying at the Doubletree and some people are staying at the Hyatt. The hotel borders a nice public square along with the convention center so everything is within a short walk. The opening remarks began with the DPA’s New Mexico director, Reena Szczepanski, explaining how New Mexico is home to some reform oriented politicians as well as sensible policies. For instance, New Mexico Governors Gary Johnson and Bill Richardson have been outspoken allies of drug policy reform, and Richardson was supposed to be there this morning but postponed his appearance until tomorrow.

The first morning plenary was El Paso city council member, Beto O’Rourke discussing his motivations and the events that followed his resolution for an “open and honest debate about legalizing drugs between the U.S. and Mexico.” He recited how El Paso is on the American side of a larger metropolitan region that includes Ciudad Juárez. This border metro area has been plagued by bloodshed in an ongoing war between drug cartel families and last year 1,600 people were murdered in gruesome fashion there drawing national media attention. This year 2,200 people have been killed he reported. He said after the resolution was vetoed and he planned on overriding the veto until the federal legislators threatened to remove federal funding for El Paso if they followed through with the override. Essentially extorting these votes from city council members who represent one of the poorest communities in the country (he mentioned how his zip code is the third poorest in the country and relies heavily on federal money). O’Rourke was delighted though in the discussions and coverage that followed his actions and felt that those results provided more than the resolution ever could have, proving that anyone can push the debate and further the cause.

Next up was Ira Glasser speaking of how social justice movements “always bubble up from below” recalling that Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were not endorsed or supported by any congressional representative or the Kennedy administration. Mr. Glasser stated how America went from slavery to Jim Crow to drug prohibition but pointed out how the Berlin wall collapsed as a result of a collective movement overcoming ideology. He also reported how he came to the ACLU in the 1960s and was the sole testifier against the Rockefeller drug law in 1975 in Albany, NY. Furthermore, he correctly blamed Richard Nixon for our War on Drugs revealing how it was the product of Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” by appealing to southern white working class voters’ resentment, fueling racism. Lastly, he told the audience how the American Medical Association’s new position on rescheduling cannabis is radical for the AMA but weak in the minds of reformers.

Ethan Nadelmann was the final speaker of the opening plenary and he excitedly exclaimed how the opportunity has never been better for drug policy reform. The repeal of alcohol prohibition was partly due to the depression and our current economic woes are forcing a discussion on the ever-increasing costs of the War on Drugs. He called for drug policy reformers to “push and support Obama to do what is right and what must happen,” adding that it is up to the grassroots to change the political climate so that reform can be possible. Mr. Nadelmann used an analogy of how harm reduction as a concept has been applied to the automobile over the years and that cars, like drugs, are here to stay and it is simply best to reduce the harms associated with their use. As a speaker, Mr. Nadelmann is probably one of the best I have had the pleasure of witnessing, he knows how to motivate and educate, he makes people laugh yet can bring them to tears and anyone who has not had the opportunity to hear him speak should look into possible audio or video of his talks.

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2 comments to DPA Conference Arrival and Opening Plenary

  • Dennis Garland

    If you get a chance, try a place called “El Patio Del Albuquerque” just south of the university. Excellent food. There is a Greek eatery in that area that is also excellent. Neither are fancy, both have great food.

  • R.O.E.

    Thanks to all that take the time to post on these events. I have to say I love listening to Mr Nadelmann speak. He has a way of cutting right through the bull.