On Tuesday, August 15, elected officials from both parties will gather along with family members of those incarcerated for drug-related crimes, medical marijuana patients and drug policy experts to address a growing civil rights issue sure to be ignored by the Democratic Party down the street: America's failed war on drugs.
Speakers, including all of those listed above, will address how America's war on drugs is failing, even by the government's own standards. This year alone, taxpayers will spend more than $40 billion to enforce the drug laws -- a dramatic increase since 1980, when federal spending was roughly $1 billion and state spending just a few times that. Yet illicit drugs are cheaper and purer than they were two decades ago, and continue to be readily available.
In addition, according to a new study by the Justice Policy Institute, the number of persons imprisoned for drug offenses in the U.S. increased by more than one thousand percent from 1980 to 1997, and continues to rise. This is despite the fact that states with higher rates of drug incarceration -- with California at the top -- experience higher, not lower, rates of drug use than other states.
"People are finally starting to wake up to the fact that the drug war makes no sense," said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, which is organizing the Shadow Convention proceedings on the drug war. "The war on drugs is not a war on crime, as politicians would have us believe. Instead, it is a war on the poor, a war on public health, and a war on our basic Constitutional rights." The drug policy program at the Shadow Convention will take place on Tuesday, August 15 at Patriotic Hall at 1816 Figueroa Street in Los Angeles from 10AM-9PM.
An ad highlighting the hypocrisies of the drug war, with a photo of Al Gore, will run in this week's L.A. Weekly
. (A similar ad
ran with a photo of Governor George W. Bush in the Philadelphia Weekly
during the Republican National Convention.)
The drug war debate is particularly relevant in California, where voters will consider Proposition 36 in November, which would divert non-violent drug possession offenders to treatment instead of incarceration. By White House estimates, 57 percent of people in need of treatment do not receive it, despite numerous studies demonstrating that treatment is far more cost-effective than imprisonment at reducing drug abuse.
Other topics to be addressed on Tuesday, August 15 in Los Angeles include:
- Racism and the Drug War - African-Americans comprise nearly two-thirds of all drug offenders admitted to state prison, though their rates of drug use are roughly equal to those of whites. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, black men are admitted to state prison on drug charges at a rate that is 13.4 times greater than that of white men - and up to 57 times greater in some states.
- Public Health and the Drug War - By the end of the 20th century, more than 250,000 cases of HIV/AIDS were associated, either directly or indirectly, with the use of unsterile syringes by injection drug users. Yet the federal government refuses to lift its ban on funding for life-saving needle exchange programs. And, although seven states and the District of Columbia have voted to allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana, the federal government continues to obstruct patient access. Therefore, those suffering from AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and other illnesses are unable to receive marijuana to alleviate their nausea, loss of appetite, intra-ocular ("within the eye") pressure and other chronic pain.
- Children and the Drug War - Nearly 2 million minors have a parent behind bars in the U.S.. Most imprisoned drug law violators are non-violent, many are first time offenders, and an increasing number are women -- 7 out of 10 of whom have a child under the age of 18. The drug war is also limiting young people's access to higher education. The Higher Education Act, passed by Congress in 1998, restricts eligibility for any federal grant, loan or work assistance program for students convicted of a drug related offense, including simple marijuana possession. In addition, state prison budgets are growing twice as fast as spending on public colleges and universities. Finally, our current approach to youth drug prevention is not working. There is no scientific evidence that D.A.R.E. has any effect on students' drug usage rates, yet it continues to be far and away the most prevalent drug education program in use today.
The failed drug war is one of three topics to be addressed during the Shadow Conventions, taking place alongside the Republican and Democratic National Conventions this summer. Campaign finance reform and the growing wealth gap are the other two topics to be addressed.
"Most thoughtful Americans know that the drug war has failed, and that it cannot succeed," said Nadelmann. "Sorely lacking, however, is the political courage required to open this debate." ATTENTION JOURNALISTS:
For more information about the Shadow Conventions or America's failed war on drugs, please call Tony Newman at (212) 548-0383, or go to http://www.drugpolicy.org/events/archive/conferences/shadow/