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October 20, 2005 - Hartford Advocate (CT)

War On The War On Drugs

A Conference At Trinity Aims To Bring Supporters Of Decriminalization Together With Those Who Favor A More Aggressive Fight Against Illegal Drugs

by Nathan Conz

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Clifford Wallace Thornton, Jr., of Efficacy, a group that advocates drug-law reform. In 1963, two weeks before Clifford Wallace Thornton Jr. was to graduate high school, his mother died of an apparent heroin overdose. "At that particular time, I thought that all illegal drugs should be eradicated from the face of the earth," Thornton says.

But after years of living in Hartford and studying the drug problem, that opinion changed. Thornton, now 60 years old, says drugs are not the problem, but that they're illegal is. He is the president of Efficacy, Inc., a Hartford-based organization of people who want to end the War on Drugs.

"I watched, decade after decade, my native Hartford go downhill and I began to delve into the drug problem to see what was wrong," Thornton says. "More and more people were using drugs and more and more people were going to jail, with no apparent stop to the flow of drugs into the city."

Thornton now says the best way to solve the drug problem is through commitments to the decriminalization, medicalization and legalization of presently illegal drugs.

"All drug-policy reform begins with one question: Are people ever going to stop using these illegal drugs? The overwhelming response is no," Thornton says. "So the next question becomes: How do we create an atmosphere that causes the least amount of harm to the people that use and the least amount of harm to society as a whole?"

Thornton will be one of many to speak at the upcoming "Illicit Drugs -- Burden & Policy" conference Friday and Saturday (Oct. 21 and 22) at Mather Hall on the Trinity College Campus. Law enforcement groups, state agencies, state and city representatives and national experts are slated to attend the conference, presented by the city of Hartford and sponsored by the Aetna Foundation. It is open to the public.

The conference will bring together groups that often disagree on how to combat the drug problem: the authorities and drug-policy reform advocates.

"This is supposed to be a conference where the broadest possible considerations for how to do this better are presented to the people," says City Councilman Robert L. Painter, who organized the conference.

Police Chief Patrick Harnett, and Drug Enforcement Administration representative Mark Kaczynski, along with other local, state and national law enforcement officials, are scheduled to speak.

In addition to Thornton, other reform advocates will speak out against drug prohibition, including Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a national group of current and former members of law enforcement who are looking at ways, other than prohibition, to reform drug laws. "This is not a conference that is advocating anything, but we sure do have people coming that are advocates of some pretty interesting ways to go about [regulating drugs]," Painter says.

A man who has spoken at conferences across the nation, Thornton cannot recall another time when law enforcement officials have been brought together in the same room with devout drug-policy reformers.

Painter hopes the conference will yield suggestions that could be turned into "clean-slate" legislation, for instance, which may help a person who's turned their life around after jail time get a job by regulating questions asked by potential employers about an applicant's criminal history.

Nixon created the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 1971 and, over 30 years later, we're still fighting. "We have more people in jail; we have higher quality drugs; we have lower prices and we have more [drug activity] going on. Either we haven't put enough effort into the way we're doing things, or we need to look at an entirely new and different way to go about it," says Painter.

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