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Untitled Document

The movement for reform grows

By John Chase, November Coalition

The 2003 Biennial conference of the Drug Policy Alliance held at the Meadowlands in New Jersey in early November included indication of the growing influence of the reform movement. Although the non-governmental organizations involved in reform are suffering budget stresses common to all non-profit organizations this year, there was a sense of optimism and hope. Real progress is being made in the U.S. and in other countries to make sensible change in some of the most destructive policies of the drug war.

Dr. Ethan Nadelmann and Rev. Edwin Sanders II convened the conference Thursday morning at its opening session with speeches telling where the movement is now and where it is going. Dr. Nadelmann is a long-time drug policy reformer, currently the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance; Rev. Sanders is the Senior Servant and Founder of Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, and long involved in alleviating the suffering of those affected by substance abuse, sexual violence and HIV/AIDS.

The conference included major sessions ranging from "Regional Reform" to "Congress, Club Drugs and the Business of Dancing", to "Marijuana", to "Those Wild and Crazy Canadians" to "Building a Movement in Communities of Color".

Among the dozens of other sessions were workshops on (1) State-Based Lobbying and Successes, including the roll-back of mandatory minimum sentencing laws in Michigan; (2) Law Enforcement Against the Drug War, the recent and very rapid growth of a cadre of former officials now telling audiences across the country how drug enforcement really works and how drug prohibition can never succeed; (3) Pain, Opiates, and Opiophobia, about the magnitude of the undertreatment of chronic pain in the U.S., how physicians are threatened with arrest for sustaining these patients on their medicine, and the terror that chronic pain patients feel when threatened with loss of meds, even prosecution for their "addiction".

Many other workshops were held on such topics as "A Lifetime of Punishment: The Consequences of a Felony Drug Conviction", "Resistance Rooted in Faith: Religion, Justice and the Drug War", "Drug Wars in the Americas: Views from the South", "Working for Reform WITHIN the Criminal Justice System", "Global Drug Prohibition: Evolution and Dissolution", "Racial Profiling", "Psychedelics", "Anti-Drug Task Forces: Focus on Texas", "Latinos and the Drug War" and "A Lifetime of Punishment: Families Torn Apart by the Drug War".

Midway through the conference came the widely reported news of the 'drug sweep' in Stratford High School in Goose Creek, SC, near Charleston (see story here). No drugs were found. As the conference was ending, Loretta Nall, one of many first time attendees, was making plans to go there to talk to the students and parents about making such police actions a thing of the past.

At the Saturday afternoon closing session, Larry Campbell, the former mayor of Vancouver, BC, emphasized that we must confront prohibitionists when they lie. He likened the assertion "needles cause drugs" to "flies cause garbage". Kemba Smith, whose sentence was commuted by President Clinton before he left office, urged people to remember those in prison. She has become politically active, even on parole, although to many people, it would be so easy to just walk away from her past.

The next conference of the Drug Policy Alliance will be its third "Breaking The Chains" conference, April 1st through 3rd 2004, in Houston, Texas, and as before, emphasizing the drug war's disproportionate impact on people of color. Visit for more information.

Journey for Justice: November Coalition Dinner Meeting Photo Op, Clearwater, FL; February 27, 2003
Back: John Chase, Chuck Armsbury and Nora Callahan of the November Coalition. Front: Bob and Cathy Jordan

Cathy Jordan is a medical marijuana activist in a wheelchair with Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS, one of the few with inclination and guts to go public.
They live in Parrish, Florida, near Bradenton. Once in Tallahassee they actually questioned Gov. Jeb Bush in a parking lot, asking, "Why can't I have my medicine, medical marijuana?" Jeb gave the usual BS about "I can't give you permission to violate our laws."

Bob Jordan is a very supportive guy, a Vietnam vet and activist alongside Cathy. Their kids are equally supportive. Neighbors say if cops come to arrest her, they are coming out with their video cameras. - John Chase

 Journey for Justice: November Coalition Dinner Meeting, Clearwater, FL; February 27, 2003

In Clearwater, FL, a variety of people crowded into a Chinese restaurant to watch Melissa Mummert's 10-minute video and hear each other speak briefly. A medical marijuana patient told of needing her medicine, and a Hispanic mother spoke bitterly about her son's life sentence. She is pictured standing, talking with prisoner David Correa's parents, Ruth and Francisco Correa from across the state.

Language barriers got smaller as the stories unfolded. A black woman long active with another reform group said it's about time for all of us in different groups to ally and commit to working on earned early release, something besides the same old "doin' time without rhyme". - Chuck Armsbury

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