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July 2, 2009 -- Huffington Post (US)

Progressives Push Against Drug War: Will Dems Listen?

By Norm Stamper, Retired Seattle police chief, Member of LEAP

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

It's official. We can now talk openly about what the great majority of us have known for a long time: drug prohibition isn't working, and never will. It's time to try something different. News organizations are awash in stories about the failure of the "drug war." Latest issues of three of the most influential progressive magazines have feature stories on the topic.

Mother Jones puts drug policy on its cover -- under the headline "Totally Wasted" (as in, money and lives) -- as part of a package including at least 10 separate pieces on topic. The American Prospect also fronts the issue, proclaiming "The End of the War on Drugs." The Nation has a feature (quoting yours truly and other drug policy reformers, including my Law Enforcement Against Prohibition colleagues) confirming that the topic has finally ripened to maturity, its earnest discourse inescapable.

It's not only newsprint publications calling out the futility and harmfulness of our decades-old prohibition policy. The progressive blogosphere, including Daily Kos, TalkLeft, Crooks and Liars, and, of course, Huffington Post has been devoting more and more bits and bytes to bashing our insane, inhumane drug laws.

So, why does the President of the United States insist on making a joke of the issue? Why, indeed, do most Democrats in Washington scramble to avoid the conversation altogether?

Three out of four Americans believe the "war on drugs" is a failure and can never be won. Serious people like Sen. Jim Webb, former Mexican president Vicente Fox, Congressmen Barney Frank, Charlie Rangel, Steve Cohen and others, even a growing body of right-of-center analysts and politicians have been saying it's time to fundamentally reshape our approach to drug control.

So, why this divide between massive public opposition to current policies and the positions taken by our leaders? Fear, of course. They're afraid of being punished for touching what has been perceived, mistakenly, as a third rail issue.

And the cause of this "drug war dementia"? I'm guessing it has something to do with a brilliant 2004 poll on the topic of medical marijuana. The poll asked two questions, the first confirming what had already been shown over and over again: that about 70 percent of people support the idea of legalizing marijuana, at least for medical purposes.

But then, pollsters asked something interesting:

"Regardless of your own opinion, do you think the majority of people support making marijuana medically available, or do you think the majority opposes making marijuana medically available?"

The result? In Rhode Island, where the poll was conducted, only 26.5 percent thought that most people support medical marijuana.

The lesson here? While many of our elected representatives privately support serious changes to our failed drug laws, they believe they are alone. They think if they stick their necks out they'll be handed their heads come election time.

Which is why we must rise up and let our elected officials know they are safe to support drug law reform. And in considerable political danger if they do not.

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We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

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