holds drug conference
The University of Wisconsin-Madison chapter of Students for
a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) of Madison, Wisconsin convened
a special weekend conference April 28-29 in their city which
included academics, writers, activists and children of drug war
parents. The conference was the first sanctioned gathering of
drug policy reformers on campus. The somewhat ponderous theme
called "Illuminating Reality: Social, Intellectual, Economic
and Faith Based Approaches to the War on Drugs in the 21st Century"
was made simple and elegant from the start.
Tomika Gates of Federal Forum from St. Paul, Minnesota combined
word and song into emotions of sorrow and hope, relating matter-of-factly
the formidable challenge of raising her siblings while their
mother served a lengthy drug sentence. Last August at the Philadelphia
Shadow Convention, Tomika and other young African-Americans performed
similarly for a reform audience brought to tears by their plain-spoken
poems and songs.
Author Mike Gray came to Madison to dispel drug war myths. Gray
makes a habit of dispelling myths, as he did about nuclear power
in his 1982 Academy Award-winning screenplay "The China
Syndrome." In 1992, when he started research on "Drug
Crazy: How We Got Into This Mess and How We Can Get Out,"
he was skeptical about the drug information released by the federal
government. Although Gray had little use for the war on drugs
beforehand, researching his book was eye opening, he told Samara
Kalk of Madison's Capital Times.
When he started looking into the dangers of drug use, Gray had
an awakening, he told a group of about 75 students. For instance,
he learned that heroin is only addictive for 10 percent of people
who try it. "Absolutely everything I knew or thought I knew
about drugs was totally bogus. Once you understand you can't
trust your government, it opens up all channels of inquiry."
Gray was the keynote speaker for the conference. "Student
groups such as SSDP are central to reforming drug policy,"
said Gray. "Your organization has the potential to assist
in turning this stupid process around."
Gray repeatedly slammed former drug czar Barry McCaffrey, accusing
the General of irresponsibility for major drug misinformation.
"There is no evidence for the other side, not a statistic,"
he told students. Gray cited the success of the Netherlands in
decriminalizing some drugs: The rate of addiction in Holland
is one-third of what it is in the United States. Marijuana is
used 30 percent less there than it is in the United States, continued
Gray. Plus, the average age of a heroin addict is getting older
in Holland. In 1980 the average age was 25 in both countries.
Now it's 36 in the Netherlands and 19 in the United States.
Gray said the drug war is dissolving the country. Yet he was
optimistic, saying marijuana is the pivotal issue in drug reform
and medical marijuana is the front line. "We are winning
daily," he told Kalk.
A prominent Madison drug war activist, Ben Masel, referred to
Gray's background in energy issues. "If we were to move
our marijuana operations out of the closets and into the sunlight,
could we solve California's energy problem?" he asked aloud
with sweet sarcasm.
In one weekend panel discussion moderated by Wisconsin Professor
Donald Downs, four religious leaders talked about their unease
with the war on drugs. "Our drug policy is a replay of Alcohol
Prohibition, which was an utter failure. Drug policies are failing
in the same ways," said Cecil Findley, a retired United
Methodist pastor who serves part time on campus.
"The drug war involves discriminatory policing, the demonization
of users and relentless posturing and grandstanding by politicians,"
Findley told his audience. "Where is the emphasis on treatment
and education? We are filling up our prisons with drug users,"
Mary Ann Macklin of the First Unitarian Society of Madison also
urged compassion. "We have lost the art of being together,
of being a community," she said.
Jenny Baumgardner of Eau Claire told Kalk she learned a lot from
the two-day conference.
"It affects everyone. They call it a war on drugs but it
is really a war on families, where young women are being sent
to jail and prison - and 80 percent of them are mothers,"
SSDP organizer Jacob Davis and other Madison students deserve
appreciation for the good work done to pull off this first-ever
Conference. Jacob told me the new SSDP contact person for the
fall semester at the Madison campus will be Adam Hupp. His email
SSDP organized a town hall meeting in Albuquerque,
New Mexico last May to address strategies for repealing the Higher
Education Act provision that denies student loans to those persons
convicted of a drug offense.
Emmett Callahan, SSDP and TNC
Shawn Heller, SSDP
Dave Borden, DRCNet and Steve Bunch, Drug
Policy forum of New Mexico
Wava Porter speaking at SSDP town hall meeting,
Steve Bunch also in photo