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November 2009
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Reform Conference Day 2

Panel: Fundraising in a tough economy  Facilitator and Panelist:  Clovis Thorn (DPA), Panelists:  asha bandele (DPA), David Glowka (DPA), Leonard Noisette (OSI).

This panel was interesting for me since fundraising has become a necessary evil for me in my efforts to reform drug policy on the state and local level in Illinois.  I hate asking people for money but have learned over the years that as long as you’re working for a good cause and your work can speak for itself fundraising does not have to be painful or dreaded.  The panelists explained what works when asking them for funds and what has been successful in their efforts at securing funding.  One thing they emphasized was treating donors as partners and not just as money bags, stating how a “no” should be seen as an opportunity to ask that donor for someone who would be willing to fund the project.   Some numbers were provided in the beginning of the session stating how foundations are operating at a lower level than previously but small donations and internet donations have been an exception to donation drops in the hard economy.

The second session I attended was a training session on Hepatitis C advocacy titled “Hepatitis C:  Crossroads of Public Health and Drug Policy.”  Presenters:  Daniel Raymond (Harm Reduction Coalition), Narelle Ellendon (Harm Reduction Coalition).

My desire to become a more vocal advocate for Hepatitis patients stems from the death of a friend and colleague last summer, Derek Rea.  Derek was a Board Member of Illinois NORML and administered the Letter of the Week selection for the DrugSense Weekly Newsletter and he contracted Hepatitis while incarcerated many years ago.  He had told me about how while in prison he turned to injection drug use for comfort and contracted the virus.

This session was very informative on how Hep. C is frequently contracted in prisons and corrections facilities avoid testing for it because once inmates have been diagnosed then the prison will have to provide them with treatment.  However, if they never test for it, they never know the patients have it, so they don’t have to pay for the healthcare needed to treat Hep. C.  It is simply a matter of money, as it so often is. . . . Info was also provided on how Hep. C patients are often disenfranchised especially when compared with HIV/AIDS patients because there are some many more resources for HIV/AIDS patients than Hep. C patients.  Furthermore, advocates and Hep. C patients are not organized very well and therefore are not mobilized very well to advocate for the research and treatment that is necessary to combat this virus.

The feature plenary today, Global Drug Prohibition: Costs, Consequences and Alternatives was moderated by Kasia Malinowska (OSI) and the presenters were Jorge Casteneda (Former Foreign Minister of Mexico), Alex Wodak (International Harm Reduction Association) and Daniel Wolfe (OSI).

Alex Wodak started the plenary off with a humorous PowerPoint presentation looking at the success of drug prohibition and likened the drug war to a “political Viagra.”  The drug war “increases potency in elections.”  The presentation was well received and appreciated because it was right after lunch (kosher hot dog for me) and a dull talk would’ve put me to sleep.  However, it was just what the attendees seemed to need, an amusing look at how the US has exported a failed drug policy in a futile attempt to claim it as victorious and successful.  Mr. Wodak mentioned how narco states like Afghanistan, Mexico, Pakistan, Burma, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia all have been impacted by drug prohibition and run the risk of becoming failed states, especially Mexico and Pakistan.  His presentation was supposed to be made available either online or on compact discs at the conference but I haven’t seen them but if anyone can find them it is entertaining and educating.

He was followed up Jorge Castaneda who focused primarily on Latin America and how leaders in those countries cannot change their policy even if they wanted to.  American authorities can and will intervene in their countries as the Americans wish and they do not need to disguise their intentions because they simply can get away with it.  This “radioactive” political issue, as he put it, is not applicable to elder statesmen or people like himself with “no political future.”  He stated how drug policy is, however, a central issue with most Latin Americans and praised the former Latin American political leaders for their position paper denouncing the failed drug prohibition.

Lastly, Daniel Wolfe spoke of other countries and their disastrous drug policies.  Namely, Vietnam with over 50,000 drug prisoners forced in work camps, essentially becoming slaves to the state.  Also noteworthy were Bali and Indonesia where he claimed that 90% of people in prison were there for nonviolent drug offenses.  On a more positive note it was revealed how Brazil decriminalized drugs in 2001 but waited until they had the data supporting the policy change to formally announce it, likely for fear of US backlash.  One other strange coincidence, or perhaps a deeper understanding of those who grasp the failure of drug prohibition, was the fact that both Brazil and Portugal have now decriminalized drugs and they both speak Portuguese.

During the follow up Q + A it was declared that $322 Billion US Dollars are spent each year in the illicit drug trade.  How they came up with that number I have no idea because they could not come up with a number for the total amount of money spent combating the drug war and one would think that legal money is easier to track than illegal, right?

The final panel I attended today was “Policing Drug Markets”  Moderator:  Ira Glasser (DPA) Panelists:  Harry Levine (Queens College), Sonny Leeper (Law Enforcement Training Institute), Kris Nyrop (The Defender Associaiton), Matt McCally (LEAP), and Daniel Bear (London School of Economics).

I wanted to catch this panel because I live in Chicago and on my corner is a flashing blue light and police camera because it is a “high crime area.”  What I have noticed and learned from such approaches is that the drug dealing that probably was occurring on the corner before the light was there (the light was there when I moved into the neighborhood) is now occurring in the alley and the corner two blocks away.  So I felt I could add that to the conversation if needed but the panel was very talkative and there were far too many questions to be fielded once Q + A time began, so I saved it for a few thoughts I shared with Ira after the panel concluded.

Harry Levine’s presentation I had recently seen at the NORML conference in San Francisco in September and it still astonishes me.  It does so because I read about the Chicago Police Department and their “problems” but the NYPD just seems have the edge on our boys in blue.  That is because of their aggressive hunting techniques in seeking drug arrests, specifically low-level cannabis violations where state law has decriminalized possession of up to almost an ounce so long as it is in your pocket, backpack, home, or simply out of public site.  Even so, there were more arrests for cannabis in NYC than any other city in the world.  That is because it is good policing to lie and this is the easiest way to get “files in the system.”  In other words, these cannabis and other drug arrests are the best way to get fingerprints, photos and sometimes DNA of folks who otherwise the FBI might not have info on.

The other presenter I found to be exceptional on this panel was Sonny Leeper, a man who has trained police officers and also testified in favor of New Mexico’s medical cannabis law, syringe exchanges and other drug policy reform causes.  He blamed officers’ discretion as “too wide” in drug policing and some officers use drug arrest to boost their stats and seek promotions.  He elaborated on the need to work with law enforcement officers, educate them, seek common values and then they will comply with reform laws and help pass new ones.  Another thing he talked about was the need for police to stop using confidential informants, as the tragedy of Rachel Hoffman should have taught us.

There were some disagreements as to whether it is best to work top-down with law enforcement or to start by educating and working with the police on the streets in our neighborhoods and then build up.  I’d offer that both methods should be utilized simultaneously.

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4 comments to Reform Conference Day 2

  • Chris

    Thanks for the update.

  • Hope

    Excellent reporting! Thank you.

  • Thank You, Dan, for writing about Derek Rea.

    Folks may read more about Derek and see photos on this webpage:

    http://drugsense.org/awards/norml2008.htm

    There are so many of us who miss Derek so much!

  • Hope

    It’s good to hear from you, Richard.

    Derek Rea was very kind and very helpful to me when I was doing a little volunteer work at MAP.

    He’s another example of the very ill that worked and are working so hard to do something about this prohibition.

    We’ve heard the accusation of prohibitionists that the reform movement is using patients for a hidden agenda? I don’t think so. As I’ve said before, most of us can’t hold a candle to the fierce dedication of the patients that are so out there in the trenches fighting for their freedom and the freedom of others.