Pubdate: Sun, 06 Jan 2002
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2002 Albuquerque Journal
Author:  Diana Heil
Bookmark: (Nadelmann, Ethan)
Bookmark: (Lindesmith Center)


Group Says War on Drugs Has Failed And Filled the Nation's Jails

By asking for a show of hands on several points, Ethan Nadelmann knew 
plenty of American Civil Liberties Union members, drug war critics 
and past or present recreational marijuana users were in the crowd 
Saturday at a Unitarian-Universalist Church forum.

But the "unusually friendly audience" didn't stop this New York City 
son of a rabbi from rolling out his best sermon on what he sees as a 
dire need for drug policy reform in the United States.

"The war on drugs has played to people's fears like almost nothing 
else," he said.

Yet America's war on drugs, he said, has failed to protect children, 
as illegal substances are readily accessible. Further, the penal 
system is neither effective nor compassionate, he said.

Policy Reform

Nadelmann, national director of the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy 
Foundation, makes frequent trips to New Mexico. He sees the Land of 
Enchantment as fertile ground for adopting the most comprehensive 
drug reform package in America, especially since Gov. Gary Johnson is 
willing to tackle the issues. Nadelmann's nonprofit group funds 
lobbyists and referendum initiatives to end the war on drugs.

Another panelist at Saturday's forum, Katharine Huffman, directs the 
state branch of Lindesmith the New Mexico Drug Policy Project which 
opened in January 2000.

Come Jan. 15, six drug reform bills will begin filtering through the 
state Legislature. None would legalize drugs for mass consumption. 
All are modeled after laws that have been passed in other states and 
some had broad support in last year's New Mexico session before the 
clock ran out.

Eight other states allow people with certain diseases, such as cancer 
and AIDS, to obtain a card from the state health department that 
allows them to possess, grow and use marijuana for medicinal reasons. 
New Mexico legislators will consider such a bill this session. But 
like the other laws, it would not set up a legal distribution system 
for marijuana, Huffman said.

Another bill would prescribe treatment and supervised probation, 
instead of incarceration, for first- and second-time nonviolent drug 
possession offenders.

Reform for the sentencing of habitual offenders would give judges, 
rather than prosecutors, the discretion to add years onto a sentence.

Another proposal would restrict how state officials can seize a 
person's assets that may have been used by that person or somebody 
else to commit an offense. If passed, the bill would require a person 
to be charged with or convicted of a crime before the state could 
take personal property.

Treatment, Not Jail

A parking ticket system would become the civil penalty for possession 
of up to 1 ounce of marijuana under another proposal. Offenders would 
pay a fine of $ 100.

Also, drug crime-only offenders could qualify for federal benefits, 
such as food stamps, without waiting five years, as they are required 
to now. This bill would waive the federal restriction on certain 

"The majority of New Mexicans support all of these reforms," Huffman 
said. "The less we spend on jail, the more we have to spend on 

Angie Vachio, director of Peanut Butter & Jelly Inc. in Albuquerque, 
develops programs to assist people after incarceration. As a 
panelist, she said these reforms would restore money and quality to 
New Mexico treatment centers that have dried up because Medicaid 
doesn't cover treatment costs.

The Unitarian-Universalist Church, the host of the forum, has charged 
itself on the national level with researching alternatives to the war 
on drugs. Moderator Patricio Larragoite, a local dentist, made clear 
Saturday's event was not a debate, however.

All three panelists appeared unified on what New Mexico and America 
need to do to deal with drugs in a common-sense, compassionate manner 
that protects human rights. And the panel discussion quickly led to 
action, with audience participants signing up for tasks such as 
testifying before the state Legislature.

Individual Rights

Nadelmann, a high-profile author and critic of drug-control policies, 
was an assistant professor of politics and public affairs at 
Princeton University from 1987 to 1994.

Individuals, not the government, should have the right to decide what 
to put in their minds and bodies, he said. Current policies have 
taken that right away and packed jails, he said.

"People should not be punished for what they put in their bodies," 
Nadelmann said.

He rolled out a string of statistics: The United States makes up 5 
percent of the world's population but 25 percent of the world's 
prison population. Since 1980, the number of people incarcerated for 
breaking drug laws has increased from 50,000 to 500,000. And more 
drugs were legal 100 years ago in America than today, he said.

"American drug policy is based on a myth that we can be a drug-free 
society," Nadelmann said. "That's not a worthy objective. It's a 
totalitarian objective."

Citing the studies of anthropologists who find peoples all over the 
world who use plants and chemicals to alter their consciousness and 
the assumption that people aren't born chemically balanced and crave 
substances, Nadelmann claims drugs are here to stay.

Our challenge, he said, is: "How do we learn to live with drugs so 
they cause the least possible harm?"
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