Pubdate: Sun, 06 Jan 2013
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2013 Washington Post Writers Group
Author: Neal Pierce, Washington Post Writers Group
Page: E4

Cease Fire


In the midst of fierce winter storms, dire budget crises and a 
tragedy as deep and disturbing as Newtown, it's possible to discern 
at least one glimmer of positive news. It's a new openness to drug 
law reform. No, the United States isn't quite ready to abandon its 
concerted "war on drugs." It's "as vicious as ever," notes Tony 
Newman of the Drug Policy Alliance. More than 750,000 people a year 
are arrested for marijuana possession. More than 500,000 are behind 
bars for some type of drug law violation. No other nation even begins 
to equal these figures. The cumulative negative impact on human lives 
is nothing less than breathtaking.

Still, change is brewing. A first dramatic finding was a Gallup poll, 
released late in 2011, showing 50 percent of Americans now favor 
legalized marijuana use - up from 36 percent just six years ago.

But the top drug news of 2012 was the Election Day decision of voters 
in Colorado and Washington to legalize marijuana, not just for 
medicinal but for recreational sales and use as well.

The Obama administration could have spoiled the outcome by insisting 
on prosecuting marijuana sale and use in those states. Marijuana 
remains - quite preposterously - classified under the Controlled 
Substances Act as a substance with high potential for abuse and no 
accepted medical application.

But President Obama, who's been mostly silent on drug issues, has now 
made a clear decision. Asked about the Colorado and Washington 
referendums, he told ABC News' Barbara Walters: "We've got bigger 
fish to fry. ... It does not make sense from a prioritization point 
of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that 
has already said that under state law, that's legal."

This doesn't necessarily mean the administration - with a record of 
repeated crackdowns on the medical marijuana industry in California - 
might not still go after producers in Colorado and Washington.

But liberalization's time seems finally to have arrived. The cause 
just received its first truly powerful congressional boost. Senate 
Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., wrote in December 
to the White House drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, suggesting federal 
legislation might legalize up to an ounce of marijuana, at least in 
the states that permit it. Leahy also sought assurance that Colorado 
and Washington officials would not be prosecuted for implementing 
their new laws.

Leahy's move, including his suggestion of Senate hearings, is "really 
significant," a "shot fired across the bow" of standard "war on 
drugs" practice, suggests Drug Policy Alliance leader Ethan 
Nadelmann. Eighteen states have legalized medical marijuana use, 
Nadelmann notes, but before Leahy, not one of those states' 36 
senators had spoken up to defend their own states' legalization laws.

Other key signs of new and open debate: endorsement of marijuana 
decriminalization both by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, who has 
known presidential ambitions, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, a 
former Obama White House chief of staff.

Plus, two powerful new films may generate rising popular support for 
drug reform action.

Noted producer Eugene Jarecki's image-packed "The House I Live In" 
depicts America's drug war as little less than "a holocaust in slow motion."

Wherever he went on a 25 state investigative journey, Jarecki wrote 
recently to The Nation magazine: "Everyone involved - prisoners, 
cops, judges, jailers, wardens, medical experts, senators - all 
described to me a system out of control, a predatory monster that 
sustains itself upon the mass incarceration of fellow human beings. 
Their crimes, most often the nonviolent use and sale of drugs in 
petty quantities, have become such a warping fixation for our prison 
industrial complex that they are often punished more severely than 
violent crime."

Jarecki's film doesn't get into specific drug use reform 
possibilities. But the other new film, "Breaking the Taboo," does 
precisely that.

Reviewing the horrors of the oppressive and often bloody drug wars 
both in the United States' and worldwide - from Colombia to 
Afghanistan to Mexico - the film raises the image of more peaceful 
solutions, legalization of marijuana and, for more serious drugs, 
individual counseling of addicts to reconstruct their lives rather 
than sentencing them to years or decades of incarceration.

Several ex-presidents of nations are featured in the film, lamenting 
drug war costs and suggesting humane alternatives - among them Jimmy 
Carter and Bill Clinton of the United States, Fernando H. Cardoso of 
Brazil and Ruth Dreifuss of Switzerland. And there's an appearance by 
Colombian President Manuel Santos, whose nation has been ravaged by 
drug wars (with heavy U.S. support). Santos recently became the first 
sitting national leader to join the chorus to "break the taboo," 
insisting it's time to replace the futile "wars" against drugs and 
drug cartels, even to consider forms of drug legalization.


Watch it online

Before its box-office debut, "Breaking the Taboo" can be seen free 
online, at
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom