Pubdate: Fri, 25 Jan 2002
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2002 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Thom Marshall


Houston's prestigious James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at 
Rice University will conduct in April a two-day international conference on 
drug policy, and I intend to help.

This is a big deal, the details of which will be officially announced 
pretty soon. And no other spot in the world is more suited to hosting a 
serious study of the planet's currently most vexing social problem.

One reason is that our town is a major entry point and distribution center 
for the drug trade. Another is that former President Bush lives here, as 
does James Baker III, who has been important to both Bush presidents in 
helping them deal with crises and problems. How appropriate it is for the 
institute named for Baker to assist in an examination of drug policy reform.

There is a hint of irony in this, considering former President Bush was an 
energetic backer of drug war efforts and expenditures, and the nation 
continues waging and escalating the war under the current President Bush.

Changing opinions However, criticisms of the ever-mounting damage done by 
the drug war are growing apace. People are changing their opinions. More 
and more folks are saying the drug war is doing more harm than the drugs. 
They are saying it is time for our leaders to pursue an exit strategy. This 
conference could well be an important step toward designing such a strategy.

Rice professor Bill Martin is the principal organizer of this conference. 
He is a fellow whose mind and logic I have admired since first becoming 
aware of him from some pieces he wrote about churches for Texas Monthly a 
couple of decades ago.

One of Martin's areas of interest and expertise is religion. But as a 
sociologist of the top rank, he recognizes the importance of studying any 
major force that impacts the way people behave and get along with one 
another. Thus, he became interested in the drug war and in organizing a 

Martin said the "operative assumption" of the conference is that the war on 
drugs "is deeply flawed, that massive expenditures on such measures as 
increased punishment, interdiction and defoliation have not only failed to 
diminish the use of drugs but have caused enormous social harm."

He said leaders from both sides of the issue are being invited "to sit down 
with each other on an extended basis." Conference participants will be 
coming here from such other countries as the Netherlands, Australia and 
Colombia to exchange views and ideas with leading drug policy experts of 
the United States.

Top banana at the Baker Institute is Edward Djerejian, although I shouldn't 
call him top banana. Too informal. He is founding director of the institute 
but people commonly address him as "Ambassador Djerejian," due to his 
having served as U.S. ambassador to Syria and to Israel. His career as a 
diplomat is long and distinguished. He no doubt can count as personal 
friends many of the world's most powerful leaders.

In other words, the man has long rubbed shoulders with many other top 
bananas. He knows the importance of bringing together people on different 
sides of an issue. He knows how to go about it.

Sending a check So, even though financing has not yet been nailed down 
securely for the upcoming drug policies conference, Djerejian has given it 
a definite go-ahead, confident he will find donors to cover the costs. I 
asked Martin for a rough estimate of the price tag on arranging such a 
get-together. About $150,000, he said.

Here's where I decided to help. I'm pitching a few bucks into the pot. I 
don't think this conference should be paid for by just a few wealthy 
people. This is an opportunity to do something for our kids. It will be a 
much better world for them if some way can be found to end the drug war 

For far too long we have only been able to watch, feeling helpless and 
frustrated. So I'm sending my little check to the Baker Institute for 
Public Policy, marking it "for the drug policy conference," and hoping for 
some results.

This is a big deal. I want to be able to tell my grandkids some day that I 
played a little part in helping to find some solutions.
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