Conference in L.A. to reform drug policy

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

Forty years after President Nixon declared the “war on drugs,” polls show the majority of the country believes drug policies are failing. The 1,000 people who gathered at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference certainly feel that way. They are calling for an end these anti-drug policies.

Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom delivered the welcoming remarks at day one of the three-day event, telling the crowd that California is the right venue for drug reform policy discussion.

“We’re a state of dreamers, of doers, of entrepreneurs, of innovators,” Newsom said. “A state that certainly been on the front lines of reconciling the abject failure that has been 40 years, this failed war on drugs.”

Newsom pointed to swollen prison populations in the state and nationwide and the costs associated with incarceration as proof of the failures of current drug policy.

In 1980, there were 500,000 people incarcerated in u-s prisons. Today, that number is 2.3 million. The number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses has increased twelve fold since then. Prisons are overcrowded and under funded.

On the other side of the aisle, GOP presidential candidate Gary Johnson showed support for the drug reform movement, espousing a more libertarian view on drug policy.

“The best thing that government can do for you and I is to empower us to make decisions that only you and I can make,” Johnson said. “That’s the bedroom, that’s what we put in out own bodies, and it goes on and on and on.”

One of the timely issues the conference aims to tackle is marijuana legalization. A Gallup poll last week showed that a record-high 50 percent of Americans now favor legalization. Conference organizers called the results a sign that the drug reform movement is picking up speed. image

The conference attracted people for a variety of reasons.

Twenty-seven-year-old Chantelle Yandaw came from Florida.

“I’m here to learn more about the reform movement after writing an undergraduate thesis about the war on drugs and the crack cocaine and powder cocaine disparities,” Yandaw said.

Maureen Taylor works with the Michigan Welfare Rights Association. She says drug policies especially hurt poor people.

“We wanted to be invited so that we could talk about the relationship between poor, low-income people and drugs,” she said.

Peter Christ co-founded an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP, after years as a police officer brought him to the conclusion that drug laws did more societal harm than good.

“The problem is when you have consensual adult activity and you make that activity illegal, you create crime in your society,” Christ said. “And if that activity has a monetary connection to it, you also create violence in your society.”

Gavin Newsom told the crowd that one of the biggest problems with drug reform is that politicians are scared to speak out, holding different opinions of drug reform in public than they do in private.

“My gosh, if I could just tape-record the private conversations, it would just break your heart,” Newsom said. “It wouldn’t just upset you, it would break your heart. We know better, we’re just not doing better.”