The day after I posted my entry on the drug war victims my colleagues and I ended up in a room listening to a cd by one of the people I regard most highly in this respect, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, giving the welcome address at the 2007 International Drug Policy Reform Conference held this December in New Orleans. I had hoped to find a youtube for this but I’ll have to resort to his entertaining argument against tobacco prohibition to give you a flavour of his style.
For much of what he talked about you can read in his article for Foreign Policy called Think Again: Drugs which can be accessed here.
One thing he said that stood out was that in 1980, the United States had about 50,000 people locked up for drug offences. The figure now stands at over 500,000. That is more than Europe (with a larger population) has locked up for all offences combined. He was speaking to academics, law enforcement, activists, drug users, and others concerned about where the drug wars had lead. It was one of those speeches that was both uplifting and terribly saddening when you realized the enormity of the tragedy, the obscene number of lives ruined in this moral crusade.
He also made an interesting point that the origins of prohibition of all drugs was at the root racist. The eventual results were much more than racist but the first anti-opium laws were aimed at constraining Chinese immigrants, anti-cocaine at Blacks, anti-reefer at Mexican migrants, and even the alcohol prohibition was aimed at the less white part of the population, those Europeans who brought to America their love of wine and beer. He also makes the main point that ultimately the point is “should the government have the right to tell you what you can do when it harms no one.’ Its really not about whether you actually do drugs but whether you think someone else has the right to make that decision for you.
Here is a speech he gave in Detroit early in 2007 and it is worth a listen if you have the time.