by David Downs
More than 400 doctors, public health officials, and drug-law reformers gather in Los Angeles today to try and inject more empirical data into the reefer madness of California's drug policy at the first New Directions California conference. The overflowing one-day event starting this morning is the third sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, after confabs in New York and Washington, DC, and it arrives amid rapid changes in the state, DPA spokesperson Margaret Dooley-Sammuli says.
“The premise is the war on drugs has failed and we need a health approach, so how are we going to get that?” she says. “These voices on the health side have been sidelined.”
The Associated Press reports America has spent more than$1 trillion in forty years with little effect, and California has wasted its share. Now that the state is broke, saving money by treating drug abuse instead of criminalizing it looks fiscally prudent, she says.
Today's speakers include: Jakada Imani, executive director, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights; Bruce Livingston, executive director of Marin Institute; Fatima Trigueiros, senior advisor to the executive board of the Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction, Portugal; Ruth Finkelstein, vice president for health policy at The New York Academy of Medicine; Allen Hopper, litigation director of the National ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project; and Martin Iguchi, professor and chair, Department of Community Health Sciences, UCLA School of Public Health.
The meeting comes against the backdrop of an unprecedented shift in tone, but not funds, at the federal level, the DPA concludes.
“You saw the Shasta County Sheriff saying, 'This is what I get paid to do: marijuana busts'. This is a huge part of the drug war.
“It's great to have the drug czar say that we need to stop calling it a drug war because we're not at war. We'd be much happier if he actually changes his policies to reflect an end to the drug war,” Dolley-Sammuli said.
The DPA has brought over Portugal official Trigueiros (who's visiting Sacramento lawmakers this morning), to describe how her country decriminalized all drugs, thereby slashing overdose deaths and rehabilitating abusers.
“They removed the penalties for drug use because they recognized that it was actually a barrier to people seeking help,” Dooley-Sammuli says.
Portugal first saw a rise in drug-use levels, and then a return to previous norms, which informs the DPA's light support of Prop 19, the Tax Cannabis Act. They're not cheerleading Prop 19 though, after a stinging defeat at the polls in 2008. A late round of attack advertisements from the state's jailers defeated the DPA's "drug treatment-not jail" proposition that they had sent to California voters.
“The spent a lot of money to misinform the electorate at the same time when the economy crashed. As support for Obama went up, Prop 5 went down. The perception was rehab costs money, of course.”
Voters are arguably even more focused on dollar bills this time around, just as Rand Corp. has found that California consumers could save maybe $10 billion a year or more on their weed bills by legalizing cannabis (which would drop its price 80 percent). Beat that, Geico gekko.
The New Directions series has been part of concrete political results, the DPA says. The New York conference preceded the end of the state's notorious Rockefeller drug laws. Washington D.C.'s meeting preceded the introduction of a bill in Congress insuring any meth user gets treatment, if they seek it.
The DPA will have conference synopses on the New Directions California site afterward.