Pubdate: Fri,  5 Apr 2002
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2002 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Thom Marshall


Peace talks scheduled next week at Rice University have Faye Hamilton 
hoping for a big drop in the number of drug war victims.

Actually, the event at Rice's James A. Baker III Institute for Public 
Policy is billed as a conference, the official title of which is "Moving 
Beyond `The War on Drugs.' " But the term "peace talks" also seems fitting, 
because two sides of an issue are coming to discuss and evaluate and look 
for a smoother path to follow into the future together.

Rice professor William Martin put the conference together with an 
impressive slate of participants, including Drug Enforcement Administration 
Administrator Asa Hutchinson, who kicks off the two-day peace talks with an 
overview of the nation's drug policy (following the welcome by Baker 
Institute director and former U.S. Ambassador Edward Djerejian). Kevin 
Zeese, executive director of Common Sense for Drug Policy, will follow with 
a general response.

Others slated to speak include Travis County District Attorney Ronald Earle 
from Austin, Judge James Gray from California, Deborah Small of the Drug 
Policy Alliance, health experts Ernest Drucker and C. Stratton Hill, 
marijuana researcher Robert Kampia, cocaine researcher Craig Reinarman, and 
drug education authority Marsha Rosenbaum.

Under the microscope Focus the first day will be on the U.S. drug policy: 
Its history. Its goals. Its problems, such as disproportionate sentencing, 
police corruption, public health and environment.

Second day's program expands to an international perspective to examine the 
drug war's effect on U.S. foreign policy and explore less punitive drug 
policies of other countries that are reporting some success.

The reason Hamilton is interested in the drug war peace talks and their 
potential is because she spent three decades as a counselor in public 
middle and high schools prior to retiring three years ago. She had 
front-row seating for watching things go from bad to worse.

Drugs are poisoning more of our kids than ever, she said, despite recent 
years of escalating the drug war. We've got to get drugs off the streets. 
We've got to get rid of the drug dealers, she said. And we've got to 
provide our kids with the education and help they need to protect 
themselves from drugs.

Zero-tolerance, get-tough policies have hurt more than helped, she said. By 
the time they finish high school, about half our nation's students have 
tried some illegal substance -- marijuana mostly. And yet if an 18-year-old 
senior is caught with drugs or paraphernalia, he can be escorted out of 
school in handcuffs, spend time in jail, be banished to alternative school 
for the rest of the semester, be denied federal aid and lose other 
educational opportunities.

`Harm reduction approach' Because she believes the drug war is doing more 
harm than the drugs, Hamilton favors a "harm reduction approach" in 
education, which is one of Rosenbaum's areas of expertise.

A medical sociologist, Rosenbaum has over the past quarter-century 
conducted many studies funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 
While the peace talks at Rice are not open to the general public, Rosenbaum 
also is scheduled to speak Tuesday at a Drug Policy Forum of Texas luncheon 
in the Wyndham Warwick Hotel. People interested in attending that event can 
call the DPFT at 713-784-3196.

Martin said that in addition to the constituents of Baker Institute, others 
invited to the peace talks will be "members of the state executive, 
legislative and judicial branches; mayors; law enforcement personnel; 
public health officials and religious leaders."

He said conference proceedings will be broadcast over the Web, and he will 
publish a book from conference reports that will be available early next year.

A news release about the conference warned against expecting any immediate 
effects: "Drug use and drug policy have both been extremely problematic for 
decades," it said. "It would be naive to expect radical transformation of 
either over the near term."

Nevertheless, some of us, such as retired school counselor Faye Hamilton, 
see the drug war peace talks as an encouraging and important and necessary 
step in the right direction. We are hopeful.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart