From involvement to commitment

By Deitra Lied, TNC regional leader

I joined the November Coalition about a year and a half ago after my husband suggested I look up their web site. What I found was a family - as well as a large and informative site. I soon had the great privilege of attending a Coalition retreat at Beaver Lodge Resort near Spokane, Washington with other regional leaders last September. I smile whenever I think of them or that weekend. People from all over the country gathered in cabins on a beautiful mountain lake to lay plans for resisting the drug war.

We recognized ourselves as casualties of this war. Some of us have loved ones in prison now, but others had served time inside prison. Some individuals came to the retreat simply because they care about this country and the ideal of freedom. They have my deepest admiration for their involvement. Through their eyes I learned how to adopt a more critical and objective view. They made me realize how uninformed I really was, even though I was personally involved with having a loved one in prison.

This involvement and now a new commitment urged me to Albuquerque, New Mexico last November to hear and meet Governor Gary Johnson (left) and a host of other inspired speakers at a series of Drug Policy Reform (DPF) Forums presented by the New Mexico Drug Policy Foundation. Governor Johnson has won the admiration and respect of many people throughout the nation and world for his courage to speak out while holding public office about the failure of current drug policies.

Whether or not you agree with Johnson, New Mexicans should be angry that federal Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey flew to Albuquerque to label our Governor "Puff Daddy." This is typical of the chief drug warrior's 'demonization' of anyone who opposes drug policy. Bullies always resort to name calling.

Susan Rush, an active member of the Libertarian party, also attended the DPF Forums. Her next step was to create a forum in her hometown. I was excited and honored when she asked me to speak at that event last March. What follows is a report on what each speaker taught at the forum.

The "Just Say Now" Forum on Thursday, March 23rd, was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at the Cree Meadows Country Club in Ruidoso. The keynote speaker was New Mexico Secretary of Public Safety, Nicholas Bakas. Supporting Bakas was a panel that included Steve Bunch of the New Mexico Drug Policy Foundation, Bryan Krumm, RN, Dr. Ray Seidel, Dusty Mathis from the Delta 9 Coalition,

Katherine Huffman from the Lindesmith Center, and me, Deitra Lied. Tony Seno, policy analyst for the Lincoln County Libertarian Party, moderated the three-hour forum. His welcoming style put everyone at ease.

Bryan Krumb from Albuquerque was the first speaker. He discussed medical use for marijuana. He stated that even Czar Mcaffery agrees marijuana is therapeutically effective and safe. If you have a medical problem that might be helped by marijuana use, Krumb suggests you contact Steve Jennison of the New Mexico Department of Health to get involved in the reopening of the Lynn Pierson Therapeutic Research Group.

Dr. Ray Seidel spoke next. He is a local physician in Lincoln County and has prescribed THC (marijuana's active chemical) to assist patients in overcoming their appetite loss during long-term illnesses. When patients ask if they can use marijuana, he leaves the choice up to them. He reminded the audience that smoking anything would be harmful to the respiratory system. He also added that in all of his emergency room experience, he never once saw a patient for a marijuana-related incident.

Steve Bunch created a resource for accurate information when he established the New Mexico Drug Policy Foundation. Thanks to the financial generosity of the Lindesmith Center, Bunch was able to organize and provide the forums in Albuquerque free to the public. In Ruidoso, Bunch spoke of the phenomenal amounts of money needed to maintain prohibition. Sadly, more money for prisons means less money for health-care and education. He cited examples of compassionate and rational drug policies that are effective in other countries such as England and the Netherlands.

As a parent, Bunch is very concerned about the safety and education of our children. Thanks to prohibition policies, the black market makes access to banned drugs easier for children to obtain, Bunch contended, and if we cannot even keep illegal drugs out of our prisons (which is true), how can we expect to keep them out of our schools?

Nicholas Bakas, retired chief of police for Albuquerque, spent many years as a drug warrior. He said the recognition or test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police actions dealing with crime and disorder, i.e. so-called 'trophy busts'. The trend is for police to train as military in combat where everyone else is the enemy.

Bakas contended there would never be enough manpower, equipment, or money to remove drugs from the public. How can we expect to keep illegal drugs from a free society when they create billions of dollars in profit. He spoke openly about the accepted policy of financing the police department's budget with hundreds of thousands of dollars gained from seizure proceeds. He is uneasy about the Constitutional question in the issue of forfeitures, but he is more uneasy about disclosure that television networks are submitting scripts for prior approval of anti-drug messages to the office of National Drug Control Policy.

Secretary Bakas discussed the widespread police corruption spawned by current drug war policies. There is now evidence of murder, armed robberies, beatings, falsification of reports and manipulation of evidence in too many police departments. Cops are committing these crimes undeterred even by police chiefs and sheriffs who are already convicted and sentenced. This should be a wake up call for law enforcement. Secretary Bakas closed by referring to the ways of the warrior - the sword or the pen. He suggests that it is time to pick up the pen.

Dusty Mathis gave an emotional plea to the audience to continue seeking the truth and challenging the media. The personal use and cultivation of marijuana is a simple level of freedom. "When the people lead, the leaders follow," he reminded us. Dusty also addressed the horror of the subliminal suggestions in network media paid for by our tax money and reinforced by commercial advertising.

Katherine Huffman from the Lindesmith Center is a soft-spoken woman who delivered a big punch. Her remarks emphasized the disproportionate impact of the current drug policies on women, children, and people of color. Every statistic she quoted weighed heavier and heavier on our hearts. It is overwhelming how this drug war impacts the poor and desperate. It is deplorable that Americans allow this to continue. Huffman described an official drug courier profile that is commonly used. It seemed from her description that every type of traveler could fit this profile.

Next was my turn to put my two cents into the dialogue. I chose to present the name and story of someone nearest and dearest to me who has been persecuted in the name of this drug war. The government charged my husband Leonard (and 32 others) with conspiracy to sell and distribute marijuana, cocaine and money laundering. It was impossible for Leonard to defend himself properly in a mass trial. This one lasted four weeks. There was no physical evidence against my husband, only the testimony of a paid witness.

Leonard was sentenced to 12 years, 7 months.

My experience teaches me that most people already know that drug war practices are unconstitutional. But this majority is living in a kind of prison, afraid to speak out; afraid even to vote their mind on unpopular issues, scared silent. Way too many citizens have chosen to become accustomed to the wear and tear on the Bill of Rights and their personal freedoms.

The community of Ruidoso, a small tourist town, should feel proud to collect a knowledgeable active group of this size. If this audience were recreated and multiplied in small towns throughout the country, and they in turn inspired others to become active, change will happen. There is a lot of work to be done, but we are gaining ground.

Courage is contagious!