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Leading Drug Policy Reformers Honored at International Drug Policy Reform Conference

Avinash Tharoor

Leading advocates for alternatives to the war on drugs will be honored at an awards ceremony on Saturday, October 26, at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver. For a complete list, visit:

Below are the distinguished award recipients:

  • The Global Commission on Drug Policy is the winner of the Richard J. Dennis Drugpeace Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Drug Policy Reform, which is given to a group or individuals who most epitomize loyal opposition to drug war extremism.

In 2011, Kofi Annan, Paul Volcker, George Shultz and Richard Branson joined former heads of state Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), César Gaviria (Colombia), Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico), George Papandreou (Greece), Ruth Dreifuss (Switzerland) and other distinguished members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy in saying the time had come to “break the taboo” on exploring alternatives to the failed war on drugs – encouraging not just decriminalization but also “experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs,” especially marijuana. The Commission, whose membership has expanded to include former presidents Aleksander Kwasniewski (Poland), Jorge Sampaio (Portugal) and Ricardo Lagos (Chile), continues to play a powerful role both behind the scenes and in the public eye.

  • The Justice Gerald Le Dain Award for Achievement in the Field of Law is given to individuals involved in law who have worked within official institutions when extremist pressures dominate government policies. This year’s recipients are Alison Holcomb, Steve Fox, Mason Tvert, and Brian Vicente.

Alison Holcomb was the primary author of marijuana legalization Initiative 502 and campaign director for New Approach Washington, the committee that secured I-502’s passage by a 56-44 percent margin. As the ACLU of Washington’s Criminal Justice Director, she has successfully advocated for legislative and regulatory improvements to Washington’s medical marijuana law, adoption of the second 911 Good Samaritan overdose prevention law in the nation, and creation of Seattle and King County’s groundbreaking Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program.

Steve Fox played a significant role in reshaping the marijuana movement and advancing the marijuana industry. In 2005, he co-founded SAFER in Colorado and later, for MPP, served as the de facto campaign manager of the historic 2012 Amendment 64 campaign in that state. He also co-founded the National Cannabis Industry Association, which currently represents more than 300 state-legal businesses, and serves as a strategic advisor to the organization. He is currently the principal at Marijuana Strategies, a marijuana policy consulting firm.

Mason Tvert co-directed the campaign in support of Amendment 64, the historic 2012 ballot initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Colorado, and he led the successful 2005 and 2007 initiative campaigns in Denver to remove all penalties for adult marijuana possession and designate it the city's lowest law enforcement priority. He is currently the director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Brian Vicente, Esq., served as the co-director of the Amendment 64 campaign and was one of the primary authors of this historic measure, which resulted in Colorado becoming the first state in the nation – and the first geographic area in the world – to make the possession, use, and regulated distribution of marijuana legal for adults. Brian also serves as executive director of Sensible Colorado. He is a founding member of Vicente Sederberg, LLC, a law firm providing legal solutions for the medical marijuana community.

  • The Edward M. Brecher Award for Achievement in the Field of Media has been awarded to Phil Smith. This award honors those who have produced the highest quality of journalistic coverage of drug policy and other drug issues.

Smith has written more on the war on drugs than anyone else in the United States, if not the world.  He has served as writer and editor of the Drug War Chronicle newsletter since May 2000, where he has turned out 6,500 hundred separate articles and 1,500 feature stories.  He was the first to break the news about California’s then-Governor Schwarzenegger signing a marijuana decriminalization bill as well as many other notable drug policy headlines.

Paul Armentano will receive the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship, which recognizes scholars, like Alfred Lindesmith, whose personal courage and quality of published research constitute a source of rational inspiration for all who labor in drug policy scholarship.

Armentano’s prolific writing and research on all things marijuana have appeared in more than 750 publications, including The New York Times, Medscape, Drug Testing & Analysis, and Congressional Quarterly, and The Los Angeles Times, as well as in more than a dozen textbooks and anthologies. He is the author of the book Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis, which reviews more than 200 studies assessing the therapeutic properties of marijuana. He co-authored Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green), which has been licensed and translated internationally.

  • The Robert C. Randall Award for Achievement in the Field of Citizen Action, which honors citizens who make democracy work in the difficult area of drug law and policy reform, goes to Steph Sherer and Lorenzo Jones. The award is named after Robert Randall, the first medical marijuana patient under the now-defunct federal program.

Steph Sherer is the founder and executive director, Americans for Safe Access. She is also a medical cannabis patient with more than seventeen years of experience serving and managing non-profit and community organizations. Steph has taken on the issue of safe access and patient rights for millions. Her unwavering dedication started with one ASA office in Oakland in 2002. Now, there is an office in DC, 16 active ASA chapters and a grassroots base of over 50,000 members.

Lorenzo Jones is the executive director of the Connecticut-based A Better Way Foundation (ABWF). He is a longtime community organizer who has spent over 20 years building winning campaigns and training advocates, community leaders, and not-for-profit staffers across the U.S. and Europe. Since 2005, under Mr. Jones’ leadership, ABWF has become one of the most prominent and successful community-based reform organizations in the country by winning campaigns to roll back mandatory minimums; prevent accidental overdose fatalities; require racial and ethnic impact statements on criminal justice and drug policy legislation; pass medical marijuana and marijuana decriminalization bills; remove barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated people; and more.

  • SICAD (the Service Intervention in Addictive Behaviors and Dependencies) is the recipient of the Norman E. Zinberg Award for Achievement in the Field of Medicine, which recognizes medical and treatment experts who perform rigorous scientific research and who have the courage to report their findings even though they may be at odds with current dogma.

Serviço de Intervenção nos Comportamentos Aditivos e nas Dependências (SICAD) is an agency in Portugal’s Ministry of Health that is directly responsible for the implementation of the country’s national drug strategy. In 2001, Portugal enacted one of the most extensive drug law reforms in the world when it decriminalized low-level possession and use of all illegal drugs and significantly expanded treatment and harm reduction services, including access to sterile syringes, methadone maintenance therapy and other medication-assisted treatments. The Portuguese experience demonstrates that decriminalization – alongside a serious investment in treatment and harm reduction services – can significantly improve public safety and health.

Dr. João Castel-Branco Goulão is the general director of SICAD and the Portuguese national drug coordinator. He was a member of the Portuguese committee that prepared the 1998 report on which the first Portuguese drug strategy, which included decriminalization, was based. Dr. Goulão has been centrally involved in both crafting and implementing Portugal’s health-based drug policies and has been invited to present on the Portuguese model in numerous other countries.

  • The H.B. Spear Award for Achievement in the Field of Control and Enforcement is given to those involved in law enforcement who have demonstrated a balanced regard for the needs of enforcement and human compassion. This year’s recipient is the Seattle Police Department.

The Seattle Police Department (SPD) has been at the forefront of health-centered innovation in drug law enforcement. SPD has long supported the expansion of access to sterile syringes and other harm reduction interventions. With the passage of Initiative 502, which legalized the production, distribution, sale and non-medical use of marijuana in Washington State, SPD won national acclaim for its commitment to help ensure the new law’s successful implementation, spearheading a public education campaign to inform residents of, and encourage voluntary compliance with, the new law.  SPD is currently piloting the first pre-booking diversion program in the country, known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD). Under the program, instead of arresting people for minor drug law violations, including possession and low-level sales, police can immediately direct them to drug treatment or other supportive services, bypassing the criminal justice system entirely.

  • The Dr. Andrew Weil Award for Achievement in the Field of Drug Education Award was first given in 2005 and recognizes those involved in drug education who have promoted honest, science-based drug education in place of ineffective scare tactics based on myths and deceit. This year, the award goes to DanceSafe.

Founded in 1998 by Emanuel Sferios, DanceSafe promotes health and safety within the electronic music and nightlife community. DanceSafe has two fundamental operating principles: harm reduction and popular education. Combining these two principles has enabled the organization to create successful, peer-based educational programs to reduce drug misuse and empower young people to make healthy, informed lifestyle choices. DanceSafe is known for bringing adulterant screening to the rave and nightlife community in the U.S., and for distributing unbiased educational literature describing the effects and risks associated with the use of various drugs at electronic music events and other festivals.

Avinash Tharoor is a freelance journalist.

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