Drug Policy Conference – Friday morning

Workshop: Building Momentum in Congress
Aaron Houston (MPP), Kris Krane (SSDP), Jesslyn McCurdy (ACLU), Daniel Raymond (Harm REduction Coalition), Eric Sterling (Criminal Policy Justice Foundation), Nkechi Taifa (Open Society Institute), Sanho Tree (Institute for Policy Studies). Moderator: Bill Piper (DPA)
I know many of these panelists (either online or in person), so I thought it would be enjoyable to attend their panel.
Aaron Houston: Regarding the Hinchey amendment. The Democratic leadership does not want drug policy reform to get any kind of win — not even a moral victory. They have so many of their members to whip in line, that they won’t allow anything (particularly something controversial like drugs) to mess things up.
Kris Krane: Talked about the Congressman who reneged on his promise to modify the bill relating to financial aid denial for students, but the hope is that there may be some possibility that something will happen in conference.
Nkechi Taifa: – With the Democrats in Congress, I can’t say that I’m optimistic about even getting a hearing.
Several other panelists agreed with the pessimism. 2008 will be a tough year for drug policy reform in Congress.
Daniel Raymond: No movement until at least 2009. Possibility at that time that Congress will shift from Iraq to domestic issues. Best likelihood may be to tie in to health care.
Sanho Tree: Interesting discussion regarding history. Things may look bleak now, but historians may see this time as the time of dramatic change.
Nkechi Taifa: Holds up 5 packets of Sweet and Low. If that’s crack, that’s five years. Holds up a Mr. Goodbar candy bar. If that’s crack, that’s 10 years. Talked about the Sentencing Commission, reporting 4 times that this law needs to change. Congress has thumbed their noses at their own Commission.
Jesslyn McCurdy: What has happened regarding crack is an adjustment in the sentencing guidelines. When crack sentence mandatory minimum was 5 years, the actual sentence, due to the guidelines was more like 5 years 3 months to 6 1/2 years. Congress brought crack guidelines down two levels so it’s down to the still way too high mandatory minimums. The
Eric Sterling: “This 100:1 discrepancy had its beginnings in my word processor.” Eric’s pretty good about giving his mea culpas for his role in this back when he was working for Congress in the 80’s. Crack has become the boot camp for ambitious federal prosecutors. It’s retail prosecution being done by the feds. Crack cases shouldn’t be in federal court.
Aaron Houston: The Bush administration and DOJ lied to Congress and claimed that retroactive sentencing reform for crack would mean that 19,000 crackheads would be immediately released on the streets. But in fact, since it’s only a small reduction in the total sentence, it would be a trickle effect over 30 years time.
Sanho Tree: We have managed to cut a fair amount of money to the aid package related to the drug war — about 10&, including a shift away from eradication. Both Democrats and Republicans are pissed off at the Bush administration for the lack of information on Plan Mexico. Afghanistan, there is a push in INL (State Department) for, well… “They have a real hard-on for fumigation in Afghanistan” The Democrats are resisting.
Regarding the temporary spike in cocaine prices. Drug cartels are not in the business of addicting Americans. They’re in the business of making money. The U.S. dollar is worthless, so cartels are selling in Europe.
Aaron Houston: Back to Hinchey — believes the Democratic leadership actually may have encouraged some of their members to vote against the Hinchey amendment to avoid any kind of look like drug policy is getting any improvement that could be considered as being due to the fact that the Democrats are in charge.
In the Q and A, I asked the following question on behalf of you, the readers…
“Having watched years of failure in Congress for drug policy reform, my readers would like to know why we’re wasting so much money on lobbying Congress, when we could be focusing our efforts on grassroots organizing.”
A rather unsatisfying answer from Aaron Houston about the need to get Congress considering these ideas, and unfortunately time was up so others didn’t have a chance to respond.
I got to talk to Bill Piper afterward and he agreed that there are discussions about allocation of resources every day and it’s a difficult decision. Do you just cut out of having a presence on Capitol Hill and re-direct your resources? Strike a balance? Something else?

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