Pubdate: Fri, 12 Apr 2002
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2002 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Thom Marshall


THE MOVEMENT to understand and improve our nation's struggles with drugs 
and drug policy took another giant step this week, comparable in scope to 
the step it took with the movie Traffic.

Much as that Hollywood film excited the public to discuss drug issues and 
the need for change as never before, the peace talks at Rice University's 
James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy may inform and motivate our 
political leaders.

The conference, "Moving Beyond 'The War on Drugs,' " on Wednesday and 
Thursday, brought to Houston U.S. Drug Enforcement Administrator Asa 
Hutchinson, who provided a traditional defense of prohibition-and-prison 
drug policies, and a list of speakers who favor drug reform, including 
doctors, a judge, a district attorney and others.

But the conference presentations represent only the lifting of the foot for 
the giant step. Now conference organizer William Martin, who is a Rice 
professor and Baker Institute senior scholar, is going to spend the next 
few months organizing a book from all the information presented at the 
conference, and from other sources as well.

Martin, by the way, is a fine writer whose credits include the book A 
Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story.

Conference provides a kickoff

The giant foot will come down when the conference report/book comes out. In 
closing remarks, the founding director of the Baker Institute, Ambassador 
Edward Djerejian, said the institute publishes such reports only when it 
involves something meaningful and when it can make a difference.

He compared the drug war to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He served as 
ambassador in both Syria and Israel and reportedly has had numerous 
conversations with key figures involved in efforts to resolve the current 

The conference is "the beginning of an intense analysis and assessment of 
what works and doesn't work," he said, and the findings will be taken to 

One of the conference speakers who has long served as an elected official 
said in a conversation at the end of the first day that drug policy reform 
efforts do not hinge upon facts and evidence. He said the facts and 
evidence clearly cry out for reform. But he said that reform depends now 
upon politics.

Those who want changes and improvements know how difficult it will be to 
get officials in charge of the current policy to relinquish any power or 
control or funding.

Or even discuss it. A couple of top government drug-war officials rather 
emphatically turned down invitations to participate in the Rice conference. 
But an invitation issued by a top rung at the Baker Institute proved 
successful in attracting Hutchinson.

Djerejian emphasized that "the need for public dialogue, as we have here, 
is essential." He said the conference is a good start.

No one is predicting precisely what changes will come or how quickly they 
will come, but the ambassador's assessment is that the areas of drug 
treatment and drug education are open windows of opportunity.

Targeting after-school plans

And perhaps a prime target for early reform efforts is increasing 
after-school programs. A couple of speakers mentioned the impact they could 

Much drug use among teens occurs between the time school lets out and 
parents get home from work. Many teen pregnancies begin during these hours, 
also, as well as a large portion of the crimes such as shoplifting and car 
thefts and burglaries that are done by kids.

Health issues such as medical marijuana and needle exchange programs are 
gaining momentum in much of the country.

Many of the speakers mentioned that they are parents and want to see better 
control and management of drugs and drug problems than the drug war has 
provided. They want a more realistic approach.

The peace talks at Rice were a giant step in that direction.
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