Pubdate: Fri, 30 Apr 1999
Source: Austin Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 1999 Austin Chronicle Corp.


The Houston-based Drug Policy Forum of Texas believes the U.S. war on drugs
is indefensible. To prove its point, the group is offering $500 to anyone
willing to publicly and intellectually argue in favor of current drug
policy. The group is looking for an individual to defend current drug laws
- -- and argue in favor of punishing possession of small amounts of marijuana
- -- in at least one debate.

Carl Veley, Drug Policy Forum operations manager, says the reward is an
effort to ratchet up public discussion on criminalization, mandatory
sentencing, and other components of the nation's drug war. Over the past few
years the group, which favors decriminalization and regulation of illegal
substances, has contacted dozens of  government officials, elected
representatives and civic leaders, but no one has been willing to debate. So
the group offered the reward. But still, no takers. "We've had zero
response," said Veley. "We can't find anyone
who will become informed on the subject and argue against changing the law.
Nobody will argue in favor of the current laws."

Alan Robison, a retired UT Health Science Center professor of pharmacology
and Forum founder, complains that the unwillingness to debate has become a
way for "drug warriors" to squash public discourse. He pointed to an
incident in 1997 when U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey backed out of a State
Bar of Texas Association meeting in
Houston after a drug-policy critic was added to the program. "We began to
realize many years ago that we can't get these damn guys to come out and
debate," Robison said. "This is a deliberate strategy. These guys know if
they don't come, there's no discussion." McCaffrey did not return calls
inquiring about the incident. But the Partnership for a Drug-Free America,
the nonprofit famous for its "This is your brain on drugs..." TV
commercials, said it had little time to argue the validity of anti-drug
efforts. "We don't run a speakers' bureau or a debating school," said Steve
Dnistrian, Partnership director of public affairs. "Part of the reason they
can't find anybody is that nobody takes them seriously. What do you want to
debate this for?" Dnistrian
said the organization occasionally participates in public debates, though he
didn't know how many. "We can't honor every request, even with a $500
bounty," he said. "Are they going to pay for travel? Is it the Sheraton or
the Best Western? But either way I'm probably not coming -- not because I'm
ducking. These issues have been  debated for the last 25 to 30 years, and
the debates get us nowhere."

The Drug Policy Forum of Texas has a mailing list of 1,500 and about 300
due-paying members -- mostly doctors, lawyers, ex-professors, and other
intellectuals. The organization differs from the more activist-oriented
Texas Hemp Campaign, which is known for less cerebral means of protest like
candlelight vigils, rallies, and marches. Veley said if no one steps
forward, the group may bump the reward up to $750. Besides trying to hammer
home its point about the Drug War, the five-year-old Forum is hoping this
reward offering can heighten its own profile, although Veley said
contributions and new members aren't exactly rolling in.

Any defenders of U.S. drug policy interested in cashing in on the Forum's
offer should call 210/641-6819 or write Drug Policy Forum of Texas, 888 W.
Sam Houston Pkwy S. #248, Houston, TX 77042.

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