HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Reformers In Babylon
Pubdate: Sep-Oct 2000
Source: Cannabis Culture
Copyright: 2000, Cannabis Culture, redistributed by MAP by permission
Contact:  Box 15 - 199 West Hastings, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6B 1H4
Fax: (604) 669-9038
Author: Pete Brady, story and photos (photos at the CC website)
See: Cited organization websites at the end of this item.
Photos: From the conference are here: and 


Street Activists And Political Lobbyists Mingle At The Drug Policy 
Foundation's 13th Annual Conference.

Washington, DC has been described as a "power vortex." It has also been 
called "the capitol of Babylon." DC is a place of presidential motorcades, 
television stars, soldiers, and diplomats, of people who make decisions 
that affect the world.

I traveled to DC in May, driving past marble monuments, the White House, 
tourist hordes, Secret Service agents and war memorials, to attend the Drug 
Policy Foundation's 13th annual international conference.

The Foundation (otherwise known as DPF) was created in 1986, and has become 
an extremely influential and respected organization in a field that is 
little understood by most grassroots marijuana smokers and growers.

Along with other public policy reform groups ­ NORML, the Marijuana Policy 
Project, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Alliance of Reform Organizations, 
the Lindesmith Center, the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, the November 
Coalition, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums among them ­ the DPF 
works with politicians, bureaucrats, scientists, community organizers, 
lobbyists, lawyers and activists to change drug laws and society's 
attitudes toward drug use and users.

The DPF has 25,000 members and a healthy financial surplus that enables it 
to fund dozens of projects, organizations and individuals. In Thailand, 
Liverpool, Puerto Rico, Bolivia, and other international and North American 
locations, the DPF's grant program gives millions of dollars for needle 
exchange programs, medical marijuana activism, community clinics, outreach 
to minorities and women, professional lobbying, and political direct action.

The DPF conference, with its whirlwind of panel presentations, symposiums, 
debates, dinners, networking, and a closing awards ceremony that has 
honored many of the most famous and hard-working members of the reform 
movement, has become a much-anticipated event that embodies the optimism 
and complexities of people who work "within the system" to change laws and 

DPF's conference program focuses most on community service and political 
activism. Every few hours during the three-day event, visitors had the 
pleasure of choosing between four or five interesting workshops.

In medical marijuana workshops, activists like Oregon's John Sajo, who 
recently stood down a police attempt to steal his legal medicinal marijuana 
crop, explained how people can start and maintain medical marijuana 
distribution centers. Sajo and other panelists were assisted by input from 
Canada's Hilary Black, who runs a cannabis Compassion Club based in 
Vancouver, Canada.

"Marc Emery just made a significant contribution to our club," Black said. 
"We continue to expand services available to patients, and are now offering 
alternative health care options. The way to keep a medical marijuana club 
going is to be professional, caring and careful."

Other panels dealt with drug testing, hemp, drug education, heroin 
addiction, drug related disease, drug use during pregnancy, raves and club 
drugs, imprisoned women, police corruption, and the export of America's 
drug war to other countries.

People interested in professional advocacy attended workshops that provided 
instructions on how to influence politicians and the media, start community 
organizations, and use the Internet to encourage policy reform.

The panel presentations were fun and practical, with polite but spirited 
exchange. Many of us also eagerly anticipated the Friday luncheon's two 
keynote speakers, Congressman Barney Frank, and Randy Puder, brother of 
deceased Vancouver police officer and drug law reform advocate Gil Puder.

Being Frank

Barney Frank is a long-time Democratic member of the House of 
Representatives and one of the most progressive, courageous voices in a US 
Congress that has become increasingly conservative during the Clinton 

When it comes to drug law reform, Frank is the best friend the movement has 
in Congress. He's led the fight against mandatory minimums and asset 
forfeiture, and has repeatedly tried to pass a bill to keep federal 
officials from interfering with state-approved med-pot laws.

Frank is refreshingly blunt. He was given several ovations, but he also 
told the luncheon crowd some things it didn't necessarily want to hear.

During his presentation, and in subsequent conversations, Frank said the 
drug war was "the single stupidest set of public policies in the United 
States," but he laid blame for these policies partially on marijuana users 
and the American electorate.

"I do not believe the American people are wise, noble, generous individuals 
who constantly misrepresented by evil politicians," Frank said. "I have 
been in Congress for 20 years and have encountered miserable and offensive 
colleagues, and every one of them was there because they got at least one 
more vote than their opponent. Vilifying politicians and exonerating the 
people who elected them is intellectually dishonest. Politicians made the 
laws that made the drug war, but who put them in office? Politicians make 
lots of mistakes, but the voters do too. We bring out the worst in each other."

Frank's opinion about the causes and continuation of the drug war were 
challenged during a question and answer period after his speech. Audience 
members asserted that "big money lobbyists," federal interference, powerful 
non-elected officials, private anti-drug organizations, the 
"prison-industrial complex" and a lack of true democracy make political 
participation frustrating and useless.

"That is exactly the reason why drug policy reform has not taken place 
sooner," Frank countered. "You haven't done as good a job as you need to do 
on this issue. You're not going to win votes by having marches or 
interrupting somebody's press conference or fund raiser. I know a lot of 
you are critical of the American system, you don't believe in the American 
system, you feel alienated and ill treated and it's natural to say 'the 
hell with it.' But votes will outweigh money every time. Voting is a tool 
you have. Use it. Casting a vote doesn't mean you are indicating support 
for the entire system."

Frank admitted that votes don't always count enough, however.

"The drug war is one of the clearest cases in my viewing of American 
history where the elected officials lag behind the public," he said. 
"Voters have approved medical marijuana in every state it has been on the 
ballot, but politicians in Washington vote to overturn that. Politicians 
have become extremely punitive. They are totally out of touch with a public 
that is far ahead of them on this issue."

Correcting "out of touch" politicians means using techniques that work for 
other single-issue groups.

"Look at the NRA [National Rifle Association] and how they do it," 
explained Frank. "You need to write these people in Congress, preferably 
using snail mail instead of email, and tell them that unless they change 
their position, it's going to make you, and everybody you know and meet, 
vote against them. It's especially powerful to have people who are not 
involved in marijuana use, such as friends and relatives, write in to tell 
them that they will also vote against politicians who oppose drug policy 
reform. Don't spend the whole letter telling why your opinions are correct, 
just tell them that if they don't pay attention to your opinion, you are 
going to make sure they lose their next election."

Although Frank repeatedly expressed faith in the American political system 
and the ability of organized, professional, dedicated drug policy reformers 
to change America's drug laws, he also expressed outrage at the drug war.

"As long as large numbers of people are willing to spend their own money to 
get drugs, nobody is going to stop drug use," he said. "All we've done is 
demonize people, ruin their lives and waste lots of money. The drug war is 
an enforcer of racism and socioeconomic inequality. It continues because 
some people believe marijuana is associated with a 1960's counterculture 
that criticizes America, while others think drug use causes crime, not 
realizing that prohibition causes crime. It is totally lacking in rationality."

Halls Of Power

Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris, pot's power couple who authored the book 
Shattered Lives, lured me out of a panel discussion by inviting me to a 
Congressional hearing chaired by democrats John Conyers and Maxine Waters.

I walked into an impressively furnished hearing room wearing a Cannabis 
Culture "Overgrow the Government" pot leaf T-shirt ­ everyone else was 
wearing expensive suits. Copies of Shattered Lives were everywhere; some 
witnesses referred to the book during testimony.

Waters and Conyers are, along with Barney Frank, some of the few 
progressive members of Congress. They and their witnesses denounced 
mandatory minimums, Barry McCaffrey, and drug war-induced police corruption.

Joanne Warwick, a legislative assistant working for Conyers, said the 
hearing was designed to "open a dialogue on a new drug policy."

"We're trying to figure out how to move away from the police model, toward 
a public health and behavioral health perspective," she said. "The supposed 
motivation for the drug war is to help people, but all we are doing is 
throwing them in jail."

Warwick emphasized the same tactics that were being discussed across town 
at the DPF conference.

"We have to get credible people in here who can make the case with 
statistics and real life solutions," she said. "We need help from drug 
policy reformers so we can reach across party lines and ideology to build a 
consensus on changing current drug policy."

One Good Cop

DPF conferences feature an awards component that has honored most of the 
power hitters in the reform movement.

This year's award for "Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Drug Policy 
Reform" went to Kevin Zeese, a widely-respected veteran drug reformer who 
heads Common Sense for Drug Policy. In previous years, this award has gone 
to psychedelics pioneer Sasha Shulgin and NORML director Keith Stroup, 
among others.

Lynn Zimmer, co-author of Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, received the 
award for scholarly research; Rolling Stone magazine won DPF's award for 
journalistic achievement.

Of all the award presentations, however, the most emotionally moving moment 
came when Randy Puder, brother of deceased Vancouver police officer and 
drug policy reformer Gil Puder, accepted an award on Gil's behalf.

During his acceptance speech, and in a private conversation afterwards, 
Puder explained the high price his brother paid for fighting police 
corruption and drug war follies.

"Gil broke silence by writing a Vancouver Sun piece in 1997," his brother 
told me. "He was immediately targeted by factions within the police 
department, especially from the drug squad. The police inspector who had 
been in charge of raiding [Marc Emery's] Hemp BC and Cannabis Café filed a 
complaint. Gil's chief constable required him to get prior approval before 
he could speak out on controversial issues. Members of the drug squad went 
to places where he was giving speeches, sitting in the back of the room 
making rude noises and trying to intimidate him."

Puder said his brother's commitment to reform was strengthened by the 

"Gil was a big guy, an 18-year officer who taught martial arts to cops, a 
father of two sons, and a proud member of the police force," Puder 
recalled. "He felt that the police cannot behave ethically or responsibly 
while enforcing drug laws. He spoke out against excessive use of force. 
Even after he found out he was dying of cancer, while he endured the 
cruelty of people who opposed reform, he continued to work for change and 
be a loving member of our family."

Gil Puder died in November, 1999, but he left behind a tell-all book, 
tentatively titled Crossfire: A Street Cop's Stand Against Violence, 
Corruption and the War on Drugs. Randy Puder describes the book as 
"well-documented and controversial."

"We had a publisher back out because he was scared of it," Puder said. "Gil 
kept papers hidden away, and made sure that there were copies of 
everything. It's a whistleblower's book."

Puder's brother recalled how Gil tried to get medical marijuana on the 
Friday before he died.

"I was implicated in some potentially criminal activity," Randy Puder said 
with a smile, explaining that Gil talked him into driving to Vancouver's 
Compassion Club with a prescription for medical pot written by an oncologist.

"I expressed my concern that if the VPD drug squad was cruising the area, 
wouldn't they like nothing better than to bust the Puder boys," Puder said.

Gil and his brother entered the club anyway, Puder recalls, but an 
attendant told them that Gil would have to go through a counseling session 
and the earliest session wasn't until Monday. Puder left without his 
medicine, was admitted to the hospital the next day, and died six days later.

Breaking Down Walls

Many people attending the DPF conference appeared to be attorneys, 
scientists, law enforcement officers, and drug educators who don't use 
drugs. Some conference participants, however, utilized medical herbs during 
evening parties enlivened by ganja butter chocolates and brownies provided 
by a radical Ohio activist.

During the parties, tensions between reform factions were sometimes 
visible. At one point, I found myself consoling an activist who was near 
tears because she felt she had been publicly insulted by a professional 

"He told me that street activism was counterproductive and a waste of 
time," she complained. "His attitude is that unless you have a college 
degree and are working in an office making money pitches or phone calls to 
senators, you can't make a difference."

Later, I saw the two reformers talking amiably.

"We've decided that the drug policy reform movement thrives on diversity," 
the female activist said, chuckling at her easy adoption of politically 
correct verbiage. "I get to run around in the street with signs denouncing 
the drug war, and he gets to sit on his ass and talk to people about 
contributing money to buy me signs and change the stupid laws. We're all 
one big happy reformer family!"

- - Drug Policy Foundation: 4455 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite B-500 Washington, 
DC 20008-2328 USA; tel (202) 537-5005; fax (202) 537-3007; email  website

- - Congressman Barney Frank: 2210 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 20515-2104 
USA; tel (202) 225-5931; website

- - Congresswoman Maxine Waters: 2344 Rayburn HOB, Washington, D.C. 20515 
USA; website

- - Congressman John Conyers: 2426 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 20515 USA; tel 
(202) 225-5126; website

- - Chris Conrad, Shattered Lives: tel (510) 215-8326; website; Human Rights and the Drug War website

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The above links appear in Cannabis Culture, the additional ones below are 
supplied by MAP:


Marijuana Policy Project

Common Sense for Drug Policy

The Lindesmith Center

Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

The November Coalition:

Families Against Mandatory Minimums

The Compassion Club

Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake