Pubdate: Sun, 30 Apr 2000
Source: Oakland Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2000 MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers
Contact:  66 Jack London Sq., Oakland, CA 94607
Author: Matthew B. Stannard


Panel discusses policy changes

BERKELEY -- A veritable who's who of the drug reform movement gathered in 
Berkeley Saturday to rally the troops behind, a renewed political push for 
an end to the nation's war on drugs.

State and national leaders of the reform movement met with about 60 local 
residents and activists at the North Berkeley Senior Center for panel 
discussions scheduled to last six hours. The event, two years In the 
making, was hosted by the Berkeley Police Review Commission.

"Even in Berkeley we are still fighting the same useless and enormously 
costly battles," said David Ritchie, a Berkeley police review commissioner. 
"The problems exist state wide, solutions must also be statewide or 
regional in scope."

That statement was addressed in a number of ways by panelists such as Ethan 
Nadelmann, director of the Lindesmith Center, a project founded by 
billionaire George Soros, that advocates treating drug abuse medically, 
Instead of as a law enforcement issue. "Things are changing slowly," 
Nadelmann said. "Drug policy reform is a kind of undertow, gaining force, 
gaining speed and sometimes popping to the surface."

Nadelmann compared the drug reform movement in 2000 to the civil rights or 
women's liberation movements before they came to public 
consciousness.  Recently, he said, the general public has begun to favor 
reform agenda items such as permitting the medicinal use of marijuana and 
offering first-time drug offenders treatment instead of jail.

Drug reformers should encourage those movements, Nadelmann said, by 
crafting ballet measures and legislation that echoes the general  -public's 
concerns without overreaching into area such as legalization.

"Don't reach too hard, too fast," he said. It's a matter of step by step 
backing into reform."

Other panelists, such as Dale Gleringer of the National Organization for 
the Reform of Marijuana Laws and Orange County Superior Court Judge, James 
P. Gray, elaborated on Nadelmann's basic themes of reducing both the damage 
caused  by drugs and the harm caused by what all said is a failed drug war.

Alcohol prohibition did not work, and everybody seems to acknowledge that 
.. we are still in drug prohibition today,. With exactly the same results," 
Gray said. "It's time to stand up and spread the word that It's OK to talk 
about this."

Later speakers cited Gray, a conservative Republican and  former federal 
prosecutor as the kind of ally drug reformers need for the long haul.  Even 
more important, said Chris Conrad of the Family Council on Drug Awareness, 
the reform movement needs to unify  -- and learn to accept setbacks.

"When the right wing gets set back, they come right back.  When the 
progressives get set back, we treat it as the end of the world," Conrad said.

"We need to stop having this defeatist attitude."

Organizers of Saturday's panel said they hope to duplicate the event in 
Other East Bay cities soon.

That's important, said Dan Macallair of the Justice Policy Institute, 
because the drug reform movement faces opponents who are very well 
organized and financed.

"The only way we're going to turn this insanity over in California . . . is 
if people start to organize at the local level," he said.  "It's really 
David and Goliath."
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