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Reform Conference Finale

Well the final day of the conference came and went yesterday; here are some of my thoughts on the panels I attended and the closing plenary.

Panel:  Intoxicants, Addiction, & the Future of Drug Control  Moderator: Harry Levine (Queens College)  Panelists: Stanton Peele (New School Univ.) and Craig Reinarman (UC-Santa Cruz).

This panel had all the air of an academic picnic in the rain.  At times there seemed to be tension between the moderator and panelists and other times it seemed amusing and chummy.  Some things I found interesting that Craig Reinarman told of were how bars and clubs have alcohol consumption built into them by sometimes not having chairs or stools so drinkers have to stand and will likely drink more.  Another way was for clubs to have loud music to drown out conversation and have people hopefully drink more.  One thing he touched on that I liked was how user oriented drug cultures generally look out for another, which can reduce harms.  The concept of medical imperialism also popped up, you know, how more conditions will simply require more drugs, yay!

Stanton Peele’s deep statement “How we think about addiction influences addiction,” is the best way to sum up his presentation.  He went over a cigarette-smoking poll that found most people quit when they wanted to and did not require treatment.  Marketing addiction was also brought up, specifically the campaign to quit smoking with the help of drugs.  He also said that the most stated reason for quitting an addiction is parenthood.  There was some discussion during the question period afterwards about how much of a better solution coerced treatment is to incarceration and the consensus seemed to be that coerced treatment is generally a bad idea but better than prison and treatment on demand is the best option.  The moderator put in some good thoughts like how most drug use is not abuse and that the brunt of drug laws are felt by the least powerful.

Panel:   After Prohibition, Imagining Alternative Drug Regimes, Present & Future.  Moderator:  Eric Sterling (Criminal Justice Policy Foundation)  Panelists:  Roger Goodman (Washington State Representative), Mark Haden (Vancouver Coastal Health), Danny Kushlick (Transform Drug Policy), Robin Room (Beckley Foundation) and Debby Goldsberry (Berkely Patients Group)

My favorite panel of the conference, really great presentations and extremely useful information, and I was able to briefly chat with a few of the panelists afterwards.  The new Transform books got stuck in transit so Danny Kushlick was rightfully upset about that but kept plugging the new books and offering boxes of them to those who are interested.  The “After the War on Drugs: Tools for the Debate” book I received from the 2007 conference was an outstanding piece of literature and I know Pete thinks highly of Transform Drug Policy Foundation too, because Transform really does do some great work outlining the concepts of regulated drug use post prohibition.  Danny made clear that drug prohibition is what makes drugs sexy, “it’s like a movie, violence, sex, guns, excitement!”  Regulation would be boring, going to the doctor for a prescription, going to the pharmacy for an over the counter substance or simply a retail outlet that is not a pharmacy, typical boring stuff that people do.  There would be supplier controls and user controls, with more controls for more harmful substances.

Robin Room gave a good overview of how alcohol prohibition ended and explored the depths of regulatory schemes for alcohol.  Noting that some provinces in Canada have a monopoly of off sales of alcohol and other licensing schemes that usually form an oligopoly, a limited monopoly, where those in the market prefer to keep the market limited.  Other ideas for drug regulation would be to have per capita limits for licenses for drug sales or a rationing system for individual consumption, although the latter seems unlikely and compromising of liberty.

Mark Haden had some great thoughts on trying to balance human rights with public health and addressed how one of human rights’ weaknesses is that it does not adequately address individual responsibility.  An increasingly more attractive idea to me that brushed upon was to have prior to purchase and use training similar to what Canada does for guns and most countries do for driving.  He did announce one reason that he has heard to maintain prohibition is that it allows for some of the profits from the illicit drug trade to make their way back to third world producer nations, and there is a fear that if drugs were legal and regulated industrial nations could come in and oppress the producing nation further cutting of any money that might have been making its way back.  However, that could be avoided with Fair Trade practices.  There were some great slides of cross marketing drugs like ads for Four Twenty Lager and a Canadian Club ad with lines and piles of a white powder.  Lastly, he called for incremental change by moving from administrative controls to social controls.

Debby Goldsberry is working on the Medical Cannabis Safety Council aiming to become a self-regulating agency for medical cannabis dispensaries and compassion centers.  They have a 21-point plan for safe medicine and noted that the government does not regulate some of the most dangerous activities like skydiving, scuba diving and electricity manufacturing (UL).  She feels that self-regulation or trade type organizations would be best for regulating medical cannabis and possibly other substance distribution.

Roger Goodman made clear the differences between free and regulated markets and pointed out that the bootleggers did turn into legitimate businesses after the repeal of prohibition.  He stated that licensed growers could produce cannabis to sell to the state, which then could sell to the pubic without advertising.  Either way the commercial interests take over in place of the criminal once prohibition ends.

Eric Sterling mentioned between speakers how conservative politicians need to hear about methods they know, specifically mentioning hunting and gun licenses.  This is something we have been considering pushing in Illinois, a legal cannabis system similar to how we allow for people to carry guns in Illinois, by purchasing a Firearms Owners ID card.  The card then allows the person to use the gun or in our case cannabis so long as it is done legally.  If used illegally the right to own, consume or produce is revoked, plus punishment for the crime committed.  It is definitely on the libertarian end of our cannabis regulatory scheme but it might appeal to those who favor minimal government.  Of course the other method is one similar to what Roger stated above, state grown and distributed.  I asked the panelists and moderator if they could imagine any pitfalls to the “hunting license” regulatory scheme for cannabis and none of them really addressed it in the answers (they took multiple questions before responding.)

Panel: Taking the Profit out of the Drug War  Moderator:  Margaret Dooley-Sammuli (DPA)  Panelists:  Scott Bullock (Institute for Justice), Matt Fogg (LEAP), Nsombi Lambright (ALCU of Mississippi), Paul Wright (Prison Legal News).

The first panelist Paul Wright elaborated on how private prisons are friends with the Republicans and are opposed by Prison Guard Unions who are friends with the Democrats.  The private prisons employ non-union guards and pay them significantly less and short staff them, often starting them out at $7.50/hour in Florida and Mississippi contrasted with union guards in California who start at $40K/year and quickly move to $60K/year.  He put the Corrections Corporation of America as donating $2 Million to federal lobbying alone.  Another point was that there is no real federal push back in lobbying from drug policy reform, whereas other issues have more equal pressuring.

Scott Bullock delved into the outrageous realm of civil asset forfeiture.  Bringing up cases like U.S. vs. $10,480 or New Jersey vs. 1994 Chevy Corvette because under civil asset forfeiture laws the property commits the crime and the owner of the property must prove that the property was not paid for or acquired with illegal drug money or illegal methods.  Often the property owners are not convicted of a crime and the burden of proof is on the property owners.  One stat he had was that in 2008 there was $1 Billion in the Federal Asset Forfeiture Fund.  Asset forfeiture he told us was a legal form of money laundering between the states and feds because in some states with less seizing ability of the state the feds can adopt the case and then the feds and state equally split the money.  Furthermore, only 29 states have reporting on asset forfeiture and there is very little public discourse about civil asset forfeiture.

Mississippi has some problems, and one that Nsombi Lambright mentioned was that the police are setting up roadblocks outside of black churches on Sundays looking for drugs.  Plus, the city of Jackson is still paying for the costs of the mayor destroying reputed crack houses.  Another example she spoke of was a case where a man was sentenced to 34 years in prison for less than an ounce of cocaine that was scrapped off the floor of his car.  Adding also how felons cannot vote unless they pass a bill through the legislature specifically restoring their voting rights.

One of the great LEAP speakers that I have heard before, Matt Fogg, recalled how when he was running a drug task force he realized how racially biased the enforcement of drug laws were and people around him would not support him bringing it to attention.  One of his great lines was, “If we locked up people who were doing drugs across the board, this drug war would’ve ended long ago.”  Another LEAP member, an active New Hampshire police officer, briefly cited how New Hampshire will release some of their state prisoners in order to contract out with the feds to house their inmates for more money.

And in the closing plenary former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson praised drug policy reformers for the work that we are doing and told of a personal injury and how he was prescribed painkillers for ten days but then had four weeks of withdrawal from them.  He also stated that methamphetamine is a prohibition drug because if cocaine were legal most people who use meth would use cocaine.

There were about seven other speakers giving very brief closing remarks I didn’t catch all their names but a few I did. First was Nubia Legarda who recollected how she was unable to go back to Ciudad Juarez when her grandma died and her work with UT- El Paso SSDP.  Another was “Moe” Maestas the sponsor of the New Mexico medical cannabis law brought back how he had to debate crazy people on the floor of the House of Representatives for three hours.  Lynn Paltrow correctly commented on the misnomer of a title of one panel “Collateral Damage of the Drug War, women, children and families.”   Adding that we need to unite under shared values with other causes like gay rights, abortion, housing, education etc.  Then there was Lorenzo Jones reciting some Notorious BIG “Everyday Struggle” lyrics and telling us how his pastor told him “you can’t bring that shit in here,” referring to talking about drug policy reform and harm reduction.  Finally gabriel sayegh closed it out with a moment of silence for Michael Phillips a man with a brain stem illness who had never left his home much less Alabama but was able to make it to New Orleans for the previous DPA conference and died there.  Following that was a chant of Si, Se Puede and the conference ended, signaling that it was time for the troops to disperse back to their parts of the planet and continue fighting in this War on Drugs.

Overall, the conference was great, lots of insightful information, although some of it tragic and horrible but still empowering and invigorating.  One of the registration staff told me there were approximately 1,200 registrants and that it was the most internationally attended drug policy reform conference yet.  The final night we hit up a place called Blackbird where the jalapeno bottle caps were tantalizing and the sweet potato fries crisp and salty.  A folksy-western blues band with a stand up bass and violinist played in the corner by the bar; it was a pleasant close to the conference.  And for those who are keeping score at home, the two green chile chicken burritos I had Friday night, from the same street corner vendor, makes it three for the entire conference.

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9 comments to Reform Conference Finale

  • DdC

    Thank You Ganjawar Correspondents…

  • I also enjoyed the After Prohibition panel discussion. I really think Danny Kushlick and Mark Haden were the two most amazing speakers, but I ended up thanking Debby Goldsberry for her being there.

    There’s a sad tendency for some drug reformers to sorta want to sell marijuana or other drugs in licenced stores, and then again they deep down really, really would truly like to see it, well, not really sold in any efficient way at all.

    Debby really did the job that an economist should’ve done at explaining how advertising – at least for MMJ – isn’t alway the evil it’s always made out to be. Some at the panel offered that it had to be an “anonymous” or non-branded products, but frankly – while it’s very PC – it’s utter nonsense and people DO want to know the strain and that sort of thing.

  • claygooding

    Although I agree that with true control of the chemical drugs we can remove many of the health problems now associated with them,I only worry about pot. I went through my exploratory phase and tried almost every drug out there,lived through it with little damage,and by far the hardest drug to quit was cigarettes. I never used a needle so I don’t know how hard it would have been to quit under those conditions.
    As long as we are allowed too grow our own pot,it will keep the price of pot down and keep us from trading a criminal cartel for an industrial one. And as most people are too lazy to even bother growing it,there will be plenty of customers for the big business people. Just look at the market for beer,which you can brew for yourself,but how many do?
    Keep the pressure on,i have started sending 2 emails a week now instead of 1 to my legislators and 1 phone call a month.
    I will be joining NORML this week and advise everyone to join and donate even a small amount too one of our organizations,every $ counts because we are fighting some of the richest people in our country trying to stop their
    easy money.

  • Nick Zentor

    Danny made clear that drug prohibition is what makes drugs sexy, “it’s like a movie, violence, sex, guns, excitement!”

    Right, and “All the world is a Stage.” Sure, it’s not so bad, up until the point where the cops force their way into your house, shoot your dog, maybe shoot you and/or your friends, completely and utterly humiliate you, and lock you in a cage and treat you like an animal, then whip you around like a slave. Up until that point, it’s a lot of fun. Of course, it’s even more fun if you’re the one wearing the uniform, which explains why those people generally don’t support drug reform policies.

    Thanks for the inside reports on the Reform Conference. While I am already aware of much of the ideas presented, I was enlightened by much of it as well. The figures on Civil Asset Forfeiture were new to me. There’s another aspect to add to the huge Big Government’s Prohibitionist vulture’s funds. I wonder, does it make the DEA and the Feds proud to be compared to vultures?

  • ezrydn

    I’m still a little befuddled over all the talk about “needing testing” before moving MMJ from Sched. I to Sched. II. Hell, they didn’t seem to need any tests to put it there in the first place! Why now? Oh, yeah, stop-loss. The Value of “Face.” Along with the torment of Truth.

  • I agree Jesper, advertising for medical cannabis wouldn’t bother me because strains are important for different conditions.

    One thing i forgot to add was a teaser for Pete, namely all the free starbucks coffee that was plentifully supplied throughout the conference.

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