November 7, 2005

Symposium Explores War on Drugs

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Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, presented a passionate speech entitled “Building a Political Movement to End the War on Drugs” in the Berger Atrium of Myron Taylor Hall on Saturday afternoon. Nadelmann’s speech was the keynote address of the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy’s symposium, “The Latest Developments in the War on Drugs.”

In his introduction, Noah Mamber law ’06 called Nadelmann the “point man for drug policy reform” in the United States. The alliance for drug policy reform has been growing because of the connection between social libertarians who believe that the government should not control what an adult is putting in their own body and conservatives who see the roughly $12 billion being spent on keeping the country clean of drugs as extravagant. Notable members of the conservative establishment such as William F. Buckley, founder of National Review magazine, have supported the Drug Policy Alliance.

Nadelmann and the Drug Policy Alliance advocate the decriminalization of certain drugs and are pushing for an end to the war on drugs because of its racist nature, the detrimental effect on the fight against HIV/AIDS and the burgeoning prison population in the United States.

“There are a lot of black and brown kids who are caught up in jail because of buying and selling of drugs,” Nadelmann said. “But how many ‘good’ white kids go to prestigious colleges and make some money by selling drugs?”

African-Americans make up only 12.2 percent of the nation and 13 percent of drug users in the United States, according to the Drug Policy Alliance’s website. Nevertheless, 38 percent of those arrested and 59 percent convicted for drug related charges are African-American. Nadelmann and others have called these statistics examples of the “New Jim Crow” facing our nation.

The link between the war on drugs and the spread of HIV and AIDS in the United States is related to the usage of sterile syringes. Current laws forbid the distribution of these clean syringes, and the Drug Policy Alliance argues that this enhances the likelihood of sharing contaminated needles.

The speech also brought up the large number of incarcerated Americans.

“Treating drugs as a criminal policy issue instead of a health issue has caused major destruction in our country,” said Nadelmann. “The United States is number one in the world for people incarcerated per capita, with 2.2 million people behind bars. 400,000 to 500,000 people will sleep in jail tonight because of drug charges, more than all people incarcerated in all of Western Europe for all crimes.”

Roughly 90 percent of the drug offenders in the country have been nabbed for only possessing the drug.

Nadelmann also focused on the advantages of the legalization of marijuana by comparing it to the legal substances alcohol and tobacco. The 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution outlawed alcohol, but after the major backlash, the 21st Amendment repealed it. Instead, alcohol is heavily taxed and its use is restricted, for example, to people over 21, and drinking is not allowed when driving except in small amounts.

In a poll of the roughly 100 people in the Atrium, only two admitted to still smoking cigarettes. Although the number may have in actuality been more, Nadelmann claimed that this shows the importance of educating the public as to substances.

“Tobacco use has decreased over 40 years, not by criminal prohibition, but by regulation through higher taxes and education about the health detriments,” he explained. “Marijuana should be treated the same way.”

Marijuana becomes a more hotly-debated topic because of its medical benefits. The American Public Health Association has said that marijuana has been proven effective in treating nausea, anorexia and AIDS wasting.

The legalization of marijuana has been rejected by both the Clinton and Bush administrations and by recent rulings in the Supreme Court. On the state level though, California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Maine and Washington, D.C. have approved state ballot initiatives to legalize medical marijuana.

Nadelmann asserted that it was not the sentiment of the Drug Policy Alliance that drugs are good or should be used.

“When talking to our kids we say first, do not do drugs. Second, do not do drugs. Third, if you have done or are doing drugs we want you to come home safely and learn what these drugs are doing to you. Members of the Drug Policy Alliance will always say safety first and preach education,” he said.

Archived article by Alex Lebowitz
Sun Staff Writer