Activists say drug policy not working

By JOHN CHRISTIE, Middletown Press Staff April 29, 2002

MIDDLETOWN -- Students and activists committed to ending the so-called "War on Drugs" gathered at Wesleyan University over the weekend to discuss alternative drug policies and ways to press lawmakers to change the government's approach to the problem. "We had representation from Rhode Island, Boston and Washington DC," said Booth Haley, a member of Wesleyan's chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. "It's great that we got so much support from students and adults." Activists held workshops Saturday and Sunday, discussing alternatives to prison for drug offenders. Haley, like many who attended the summit, likened current drug policies to the prohibition on alcohol during the 1920s, which resulted in an extensive black market trade and increased crime and addiction.

"The War on Drugs is flawed," Haley said. "Prohibition did not work for alcohol and it's not working for drugs like marijuana, heroin and cocaine.

"Like with alcohol, there needs to be a distinction between use and abuse when it comes to drugs," he said. "The government spends millions of dollars on a prison system where 60 percent of people there are there for drugs. Wouldn't that money be better spent on education?"

On Sunday, Cliff Thornton, a teacher at Trinity College in Hartford, led a discussion on alternative drug policies, such as the legalization of certain drugs that could be regulated through the country's medical system. He also stressed treatment over imprisonment for drug users.

However, Thornton acknowledged that convincing government officials to change what amounts to a billion dollar industry will be monumental task.

"What we want to do is to get the black market out of it and to have a truthful dialogue about the effects of drugs -- which there isn't much of now," Thornton said. "People are told if they used marijuana they're definitely going to try heroin and other hard drugs, which isn't true."

Thornton noted that in Holland, where recreational drug use is legal and regulated, use of harder drugs is decreasing.

Steven Silverman, executive director of Flex Your Rights, said beyond presenting alternative policy, the movement must engage citizens with the moral message for legalizing drugs.

"It is wrong to put someone in jail for what they decided to put in their bodies," Silverman said.

Adam Hurter, an activist for EFFICACY, agreed the movement has to look to winning "the hearts and minds" of American citizens, but it must be coupled with sound alternative policies that allow people to see how drug legalization works in the real world.

"Right now when some people hear legalization they think cocaine vending machines in high schools," Hurter said. "Construction is more important than destruction. We can't just try to destroy the War on Drugs without offering an alternative."

Thornton noted that the "demonizing" of drugs like marijuana is one of the biggest obstacles to making the case for legalization.

"Our fantasies about drugs and drug use are truly out there," he said. "We have to bring these discussions back to earth. Okay, if you agree that drug use will never fully go away, what then? What are we doing right now?"

For more information on Students for Sensible Drug Policy visit the group's Website at .

©The Middletown Press 2002

close window